Prime minister Boris Johnson may have said that during the coronavirus pandemic we should all be avoiding pubs, clubs and theatres, but as of yet we've heard no mention of whether we should be avoiding gyms too. In simpler times the gym was a place where you could go to get fitter, faster, stronger and healthier, but as more coronavirus, or COVID-19, cases are confirmed your hot and sweaty gym is ceasing to be a place for health and is instead becoming a source of major anxiety.
But we all know the rules by now – wash your hands and avoid touching your face – so if we're careful can the gym still be a place we go to cultivate healthy bodies and minds? We know that regular exercise boosts our immune systems and aids the body's defence against disease, with one study by the University of Bath claiming that immune cells in the bloodstream can increase by up to 10 times during exercise, so now is not the time to avoid working out altogether, but would we be better served opting for home and outdoor workouts? Doctor, professional snowboarder and Bio-Synergy ambassador, Dr Gary Bartlett certainly thinks so.
"This could be the perfect opportunity to work out at home in your own private space using your own personal home gym equipment or simply do a bodyweight workout. Remember that there are ways to tailor your workout so that you don’t have to use large gym equipment but you can still achieve the same results," says Bartlett
Still, there's a reason you never see anyone deadlifting in the park. For some, home workouts just don't cut it, so for people who want to use the gym's space and facilities are they safe to do so? In some countries, Greece and Italy to name two, the decision over whether the gym is somewhere large groups of people should be congregating has already been taken out of people's hands, but in the UK, at the time of writing at least, gyms are still open and it's up to you to decide whether the gym is a safe place for you to be spending your time.
So you can make an informed decision we spoke to Bartlett and Dr Earim Chaudry, GP and medical director at men’s wellness platform Manual, about how coronavirus spreads and whether or not going to the gym is worth the risk.
Gyms Have Already Closed Their Doors In...
- Czech Republic
- Plus, many gyms have closed their doors in certain cities and states, like Bavaria in Germany or LA in the US.
- Governments have also have issued guidance limiting the number of people who gather together, which obviously impacts gyms. The current advice can be to avoid social gatherings of as little of 10 or as many as 500.
How Coronavirus Spreads
Transmission of coronavirus happens when people come into close contact, so within 2 metres, with a person who already has the virus. The disease can also be caught by touching a surface, object or the hand of an infected person and then touching your own mouth, nose or eyes. "A public gym is a place where there is a real risk of potential spread of coronavirus as equipment is touched and shared by lots of different people," says Bartlett.
However, as Chaudry explains, before deciding to nix your gym membership, it's important to remember that the benefits of getting your workout could still outweigh the possible risks. "If you’re lucky enough to live in an area with a very low number of cases and you’re taking all necessary precautions, going to the gym could still be highly beneficial to you and your immune system," says Chaudry.
Things You Should Be Aware of Before Going to the Gym
We get that you might have questions that are a little more nuanced than just 'is it safe to go the gym', so here are a few other questions you might need to know the answer to before your next gym visit.
Can I Catch Coronavirus via Other People's Sweat?
No, sweat doesn't transmit the virus. It's spread through respiratory droplets, so when you cough or sneeze, the particles that are released through your nose or mouth are the ones that contain the virus.
A study published in the The Journal of Hospital Infection observed that coronavirus can live on surfaces like metal, glass or plastic for up to 9 days, but can be removed through adequate cleaning procedures. So if you are going to the gym make sure you're wiping down surfaces.
Am I Putting Other People at Risk by Going to the Gym?
Most people who contract coronavirus will suffer mild flu-like symptoms and should make a good recovery without any complications, but there are certain vulnerable people for who the disease will be fatal. When you're making your decision about going to the gym, you should also consider how your actions will impact vulnerable people you come into contact with.
"High risk groups include the elderly as well as those with underlying health conditions such as respiratory diseases like emphysema or those whose immune systems do not fully function. While COVID-19 might not have such an adverse effect on you or me (if normally fit, healthy and young), we do have a major responsibility to reduce the risk of transmission of the virus from ourselves to those who are vulnerable," says Bartlett.
Should I Go to Gym Classes?
We've already published a guide to various class-based gyms, like Barry's and 1Rebel's, response to coronavirus. Barry's Bootcamp has taken the decision to close all of its studios in the UK amid the coronavirus pandemic.
More generally though, transmission of the virus happens when people come into close contact, so within 2 metres, of a person who already has the virus. If you're gym class can't offer that, you need to consider whether it's worth the risk. You also need find out if you're gym has put any extra cleaning practises in place because, as Chaudry says, the sanitation standards of your gym should also be your guide here.
I'm Not Exhibiting Any Symptoms Am I Ok to Go to the Gym?
A recent study by researchers from Hasselt University looking at outbreak data in Singapore and China found that around half of patients transmitted the virus before they experienced symptoms, although that piece of research is yet to be peer reviewed.
Put simply, you don't necessarily have to exhibit symptoms to be suffering from the virus.
According to the World Health Organization common signs of infection include, but are not restricted to:
- Respiratory symptoms
- Shortness of breath
- Breathing difficulties
Precautions You Should Take If You Do Decide to Go the Gym
If you're not put off by the health risks or if you've decided that your gym has put in place appropriate safeguards to mitigate the coronavirus threat, then there are still a number of precautions you should be taking to limit your chances of catching coronavirus.
Wash Your Hands
An obvious one, but probably the best thing you can do if you choose to workout at the gym is keep your hands clean by washing them often. Bartlett recommends washing them before starting the gym, between each set and at the end of your gym session.
Wipe Down Equipment
Like washing your hands, this falls within the 'probably, should have been doing that already' category, but according to a recent MyProtein survey of over 4,000 gym-goers, around half don’t wipe down equipment after they've finished, so you better do it before you start.
Wipe down equipment with a disinfectant wipe or spray. A quick once over with a sweat towel isn't going to cut it.
Go During Off-peak Hours
You may have got used to going to the gym after work or in your lunch break, but in order to get your 2ft of free space you may need to break that habit, for a while at least.
If you're gym hasn't made special dispensations for classes, like giving you extra room to work out in or regularly cleaning the equipment, probably best to swerve those too.
Wearing Weight-lifting Gloves
While we'd never usually recommend weight-lifting gloves because of the limitations they put on your grip strength, these are extraordinary times. While weight-lifting gloves won't protect you from the virus because it doesn't pass through skin and you have to touch your infected hands to openings like your eyes, nose or mouth, wearing gloves may deter you from touching these hot spots on your face.
You'll still need to wash your hands when you take the gloves off though.
Saunas and Steam Rooms
It's thought that hot temperatures have some influence on coronavirus' ability to spread, but heat alone won't stop it. Bartlett recommends avoiding saunas and steam rooms for the time being at least because damp and humid environments have always been and remain perfect places to transmit viruses and other pathogens.
Can You Work Out at Home Rather than Going to the Gym?
Not being able to go to the gym doesn't have to mean that you give up your health or gains; it just means you have to be a little more creative about your workouts. You are not your gym membership remember, and there are loads of fat-burning, muscle building and immune system-boosting workouts that you can do from the comfort of your own home or outside.
"I’d definitely recommend opting to work out at home or outside versus the gym. You’re getting all the benefits of exercise – including a stronger immune system – without risking more exposure to the virus," says Chaudry. "With working out at home, there’s no risk of interacting with the public and you’re still practicing self isolation even though you're exercising and sweating. When it comes to outdoor exercise, you’re avoiding crowded areas, which puts in a lower risk area."
Need a workout to get you started? Check out a few of our favourites below.
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