Yes, you can still run outside. Here's how to do it safely

Jordan Smith
Photo credit: Tim Robberts - Getty Images

From Runner's World

While the coronavirus epidemic continues to spread, causing running races – and many other large events – to be postponed and cancelled, you might be wondering what you should do for your own personal health and how this could affect your training. In fact, after the government's announcement yesterday to cease all unnecessary travel, which includes clubs, theatres, bars and social spaces, it can be hard to know whether you're able to work out outside.

According to the Prime Minister, people are able to leave the house 'for one form of exercise a day such as a run, walk or cycle. This should be done alone or only with people you live with' which means your morning run is still OK if at a safe distance from others.

We tapped David Nieman, Dr.PH., health professor at Appalachian State University and director of the Human Performance Lab at the North Carolina Research Campus, and Brian Labus, Ph.D., MPH, assistant professor in the School of Public Health at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, to help answer your most frequently asked run questions.

Is it safe to run outside?

Yes—in fact, it’s safer to be outside than inside when it comes to disease transmission. When people congregate together and someone sneezes or coughs, droplets get onto objects that people touch, and then people touch their face, Nieman explains. The best plan for running right now is to go out and run with a healthy buddy or small group and enjoy the outdoors.

Additionally, people might be afraid to run in the colder weather for fear of illness, but that’s not true; there is no data that you will get sick from really any respiratory pathogen when running in cold weather, Nieman says.

Should you avoid running in groups?

Yes, according to current advice, you should run alone, or with one member of your household. Avoid running in a group at this time.


Can you run outside if you are quarantined?

Getting in 30 to 60 minutes of moderate to brisk activity can help your immune system keep viruses at bay. During a quarantine, Nieman suggests doing some exercise wherever you are to keep healthy—doing bodyweight exercises or running on an at-home treadmill are great ways to do this. Unless you’re sick.

“If you do have flu or coronavirus, or have fever, sick people think wrongly they can ‘exercise the virus out of the system’ or ‘sweat it out,’ that’s a myth. It’s actually the opposite,” Neiman says.

Should I avoid touching traffic buttons?

The latest data with the novel coronavirus is that it does not last very long on objects outside because of the exposure to sunlight. In general, objects outside should have little virus on them, Nieman explained. However, there could be a problem if someone coughs into his or her hand immediately before touching a traffic button, and then you touch the traffic button after them. If you must touch the traffic button, do not touch your face after. Even better? Use a glove, sleeve, or elbow.

Can coronavirus be spread through sweat?

According to the CDC, transmission of the coronavirus happens between people who are in close contact with one another (about six feet) and through respiratory droplets, produced through a cough or sneeze—not sweat.

Am I contagious if I have no symptoms?

This is one thing we don’t fully understand yet about coronavirus. You are probably contagious right before you begin to show symptoms, but we don’t know for what time period and we don’t know how contagious. It makes sense that you would be more contagious once you are coughing, but we don’t fully understand transmission yet, Labus says.

Social distancing is the answer right now, Nieman says. Experts are still trying to figure out how long the virus lives on objects, and the problem is that it appears to be highly contagious, spread easily by coughing and sneezing, and can be spread by people who don’t think they’re sick. That’s why hand-washing and not touching your face are so important.

Is my immune system weaker post-marathon or after a hard workout?

As you deplete your stores of glycogen, your immune system does not function as well as it normally does. That means in the hours following a half marathon or marathon, if you have been exposed to someone who has been sick with the flu or coronavirus, your bodies defenses are down, Neiman says. Additionally, mental or physical stress—caused by running a marathon or a very hard workout—could slightly increase your chances of becoming ill, Labus explains.

“I would caution runners to avoid long, intense runs right now until we get through all this and just to kind of keep things under control,” Nieman says. “Don’t overdo it. Be worried more about health than fitness.”

However, that doesn’t mean you need to quit running or exercising altogether. There is a very strong connection between regular exercise and a strong immune system in the first place, so the long-term immune system benefits of running far outweigh any short-term concerns, Labus says.

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If my race isn’t cancelled, should I go?

You might be wondering what to do about your next parkrun, or the marathon you’ve been training for. The likelihood you would be exposed to someone sneezing or coughing is pretty low, and you’re more likely to run into that indoors than outdoors.

Plus, if a person has the flu or coronavirus, they’re going to be feeling pretty sick and not up to running. The problem becomes when you have hundreds or thousands of people jammed at a starting line.

Nieman suggests that the goal right now is to avoid crowds and gatherings of people indoors and outdoors until we know better about how the virus can spread.

If my race is cancelled but there are other group run events in its place, should I go?

You might be seeing group runs or unofficial races popping up in place of canceled races. But any time people come together, there is a chance for the disease to spread. If you are mindful of your interactions with others and take basic steps to protect yourself, like washing your hands, limiting direct contact with others, and not touching your face, you can reduce your risk of many different infections, Labus says. Remember that, even though everyone is focused on coronavirus, flu is still circulating widely.

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