Going to the gym or workout classes could put you at huge hygiene risk of coronavirus

Catriona Harvey-Jenner
Photo credit: Thomas M Barwick INC

From Runner's World

Coronavirus is spreading worldwide, with escalation now being inevitable in this country. As it stands, the government advice to prevent the transmission of the highly contagious COVID-19 bug is to go about our normal lives, taking care to wash our hands thoroughly and avoid touching our faces as much as possible.

But there may be some areas of our everyday lives - like the gym, for example - where we have to be even more vigilant.

'As viruses can live on a surface outside the human body for several hours, gym equipment is a prime culprit for picking up an illness,' warns Dr Ravi Tomar, a GP at Portland Medical.

And while he advises that people should avoid the gym if they're not feeling well - coronavirus or not - the doctor notes that many people ignore this advice.

'The most effective way of preventing the spread of COVID-19 in the gym, or any other virus for that matter, is for people who aren’t feeling well to simply skip their gym session and stay at home until they’re sure it’s not coronavirus.

'If you’re feeling a bit sniffly and can’t work out whether it’s spring allergies or something more sinister, use a symptom assessment app such as Doctorlink to check before you head to the gym,' says the expert.

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'Unfortunately, many people do insist on pushing through for the sake of a workout, unwittingly exposing others to their germs. Coughs and sneezes can spread droplets much further than you might think (up to 8 metres) and those droplets can remain in the air a good while afterwards,' Dr Tomar adds. And when you think about the close proximity of equipment in the gym, you can see how it could be a hub for viruses to spread.

'Depending on whether the person before you has coughed onto their hands or worse, sneezed into the air, there can be moisture droplets containing a virus on anything from free-weights to elliptical handles or the buttons on the treadmill,' warns the GP.

It's not all doom and gloom, though, because Dr Tomar reassures us that 'sweat itself doesn’t transmit coronavirus' – so you don't have to worry about missing the odd drip of sweat on the cross trainer when you wipe it down after your workout. Phew.

Having said that, the expert does clarify that 'anyone with the virus who coughs, sneezes or wipes their nose on their sweaty hand or arm can pass the virus from their mucus into their sweat and spread it that way.' Which goes back to the point that you shouldn't be in the gym in the first place if you're feeling under the weather.


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'Sadly, simply wiping the handles and surfaces won’t make a difference. To eliminate any droplets containing the virus, it’s essential that you’re using universal cleaning wipes that have antibacterial and antiviral properties,' notes the GP.

'Most hand sanitisers including those alcohol based can be helpful as they have antiviral properties as well, but they should never be a substitute for good-old fashioned hand washing,' says Dr Tomar, adding: 'To stay protected, regularly wash your hands with soap for around 20 seconds – that’s 'Happy Birthday' twice or the chorus of 'Stayin’ Alive' once.'

Great, so that means I'll have the BeeGees stuck in my head forevermore now.

On a serious note, though, it's now more important than ever to follow expert advice. If you feel the slightest onset of any symptoms, don't take yourself to the gym out of guilt or determination – you could be a risk to others, and your own health.

If you're concerned about any ill health (coronavirus symptoms are a cough, a high temperature and shortness of breath) call NHS 111 or use the online coronavirus service to seek medical advice. Dr Ravi Tomar is a GP at Portland Medical.

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