COVID-19 is something none of us will ever forget. It’s had an impact on every facet of our lives. My industry particularly took a big hit despite the fact that exercise and staying healthy is one of the top combatants to this dreadful pandemic. Facilities big and small were forced to close doors temporarily or worse, permanently, leaving consumers lost and looking for fitness alternatives. The good news is that within the past six months some facilities have reopened albeit limited to offerings and capacity. Now that we are about a year into this nightmare, there is a light at the end of the tunnel and “normalcy”, whatever that may be, will be returning. So if going to the gym is your thing, rest assured, you’ll be going back shortly if you haven’t already. Here are some tips to think about when heading back to the gym.
Understand The Inherent Risks
When weighing your options, it is important to consider both the risks associated with exercising at an indoor gym and steps you can take to keep yourself safe. The recommendation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is to maintain social distancing of at least six feet from other individuals to avoid inhalation of virus-containing respiratory droplets. When someone is exercising, they breathe with more force than while at rest. Therefore, heavier breathing during exercise can result in an increased concentration of air droplets traveling farther, thus increasing the risk for COVID-19 transmission. While many fitness facilities are following guidelines by spacing out equipment and encouraging social distancing, you may find yourself in a situation where another member decides to exercise on the cardio machine next to you or several members are having a conversation right next to where you are completing your set of bench presses. Even with limits to facility numbers, weight rooms and cardio areas can get crowded, making it more difficult to maintain social distancing throughout the facility. Some fitness and wellness centers may not have ventilation systems that can adequately remove viral droplets and particles from the air, thus increasing members’ risk of infection, especially in smaller indoor spaces. With regards to using shared fitness equipment, even though COVID-19 is most commonly spread through close contact with an individual who has the virus, it is possible to become infected by touching a contaminated surface and then touching your mouth, nose or eyes. Therefore, using shared equipment such as weight and cardio machines, mats, or dumbbells that are not cleaned before and after each use may increase your risk for COVID-19.
One Day, One Step At a Time
- Choose a gym where you feel comfortable and safe: Fitness and wellness facilities must follow state guidelines; however, some may take more precautions than others, such as implementing additional temperature and symptom assessments, cleaning and mask-wearing protocols and limited fitness class sizes. Therefore, visit a few different facilities and join the one where you will feel safe and comfortable to exercise.
- It may be beneficial to choose a facility that also offers online personal training, virtual fitness classes, and/or outdoor classes so that you can create a weekly exercise routine that includes workouts that take place at the gym, outside and at home to limit the number of times per week that you are exercising at an indoor gym.
- Wear a mask that covers your mouth and nose while exercising: Although it may be uncomfortable to exercise with a mask, it can help keep you and others safe from COVID-19. Also, a recent study found that heart rate, blood pressure, respiratory rate and oxygen saturation were not adversely impacted in healthy individuals who performed aerobic exercise while wearing a mask.
- Remember to maintain social distancing of at least 6 feet to avoid close contact with other facility members or employees. Work out in areas of the gym that are less crowded and avoid attending the gym during peak hours.
- Bring your own equipment. When possible, bring your own equipment such as mats, dumbbells or bands to use during your workout or when attending fitness classes.
- Bring your own water bottle. Some fitness facilities may not allow access to water fountains. Therefore, bring your own water bottle to make sure you have safe access to water.
- Clean each piece of equipment before and after you use it, and avoid touching your mouth, nose and eyes throughout your workout.
- Wash your hands before and immediately after your workout with soap and water.
- Limit indoor high-intensity exercise. When possible, perform high-intensity activities outdoors. If performing high-intensity exercise indoors, increase distance.
Bottom line: the precautions to protect yourself from a COVID infection are the exact same precautions one should use to prevent infections from the flu. With a conscientious and consistent effort, we can all bring an end to this madness. Beginning or maintaining an exercise routine is paramount for both physical and mental health and it is especially important during this health crisis. Make sure you choose a place and format that will best support your health-related goals and level of comfort for safely starting or returning to an active lifestyle.
Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.