When I describe the vibe of my gym to friends, the word I use most frequently is “gritty.” Despite what I’m sure are vigilant efforts by the staff, it always seems dingy to me. Most of the time, I'm fine with that. (As long as there are ample wet wipes for me to use.) But right now, with coronavirus sweeping the nation, I've been tempted to give my fitness center a wide berth. Still, I don't want to skip working out — an essential part of my mental health routine — unless it's absolutely necessary. So I decided to ask the experts: Is going to the gym a risky move during this pandemic?
Honestly, it kind of is, Jill Grimes, MD, a physician at the University of Texas, tells Refinery29. COVID-19 can’t be transmitted through perspiration. But you can get it after touching fitness equipment and barbells, she says.
That's bad enough, but when we’re sweating a lot, we’re more likely to wipe our brows subconsciously, adds Grimes. And face-touching is a major way people contract the virus, according to The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention. Even using a towel isn’t a fail-safe. You may set it down on the ground or equipment that someone coughed or sneezed on, then touch it and pick up those germs, Grimes notes.
In an effort to allay people's fears about working up a sweat, many boutique fitness classes are taking additional precautions. A spokesperson for Barry’s Bootcamp, a cardio and strength training workout class, told Refinery29 that they’re adding disposable wipes and additional hand sanitizer to studios to help people stay healthy.
In a recent class I took at SLT Tread, which combines reformer Pilates and treadmill intervals, we took a break in the middle of the session to wipe down our machines. (To be honest, my tired abs welcomed the pause.)
Gym members have to do their part to keep their favorite fitness centers and studios safe for all, too. Health officials and experts are urging people to stay home if they're feeling sick or have been in contact with the virus. At one Orangetheory Fitness studio in Palm Desert, California, someone who had been exposed to the illness came in for a workout, according to the local news channel KESQ-TV. Orangetheory deep-cleaned their studio, and emailed everyone who'd been to the location since the member had visited, suggesting they contact their doctors.
For now, Grimes says your safest bet is to stick to outdoor workouts, such as running, biking, and walking. “The great thing about running is that you can do it alone and outside,” adds John Honerkamp, an NYC running coach and the founder and CEO of Run Kamp. “Running alone — or even with others — outside in a park or on the streets doesn't have a high risk. I'd definitely limit the high-fiving, though.”
If running or biking isn’t your thing, exercise at home. “It’s a great time to own a Peloton bike,” Grimes says. But really, all you need for a sweat session is a yoga mat. There are plenty of fitness apps and websites that deliver free workout routines that you can do using bodyweight or hand weights, if you have them.
If you feel healthy and aren't willing to steer clear of the gym, you can stay a little safer by avoiding certain equipment. MindBodyGreen reported that bacteria can typically survive on a yoga mat for several hours to days. An easy fix: Bring your own mat to the gym, avoid flipping it over during class, be careful when rolling it up, and disinfect it after your session.
Coronavirus germs can live on metal, glass, and plastic for up to nine days, according to a study published in The Journal Of Hospital Infection. That likely applies to metal weights and machines, so wipe them down super-thoroughly before and after touching them.
A word on wipes: Diluted bleach mixtures and alcohol solutions that have at least 70 percent in them are said to be effective against the quick-spreading virus, the CDC notes. If you're not sure what kind of wet wipes your gym uses, consider bringing your own disinfectant wipes from home. And follow the instructions on the package; some disinfectants require a surface to remain wet for several minutes in order to properly disinfect, the CDC reports.
Of course, do not touch your face during your workout, and give your hands a deep-cleaning with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer as soon as you're done. A shower is a smart idea, too.
Jay Cardiello, a health strategist and fitness professional, thinks the hyper-vigilance that’s come with coronavirus may have a silver lining. “It’s created a great deal of social consciousness,” he says. “A lot of people are looking at this as a negative thing, especially in terms of working out, but it can actually be a positive thing… We should be washing our hands, and wiping down our weights or yoga mats after we use them. We should always be taking care of our health needs and immune systems, and focusing on sleep, and staying hydrated.”
COVID-19 has been declared a global pandemic. Go to the CDC website for the latest information on symptoms, prevention, and other resources.