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Exercising Outside During COVID-19

Regular physical exercise is good not only for you physically, but also mentally. And during this uncertain time, it can be an anchor to remain grounded, and sane, through the storm.

While many states have stay-at-home and shelter-in-place orders, it’s no surprise that most gyms and fitness centers are closed. In light of these closures, if you are a regular exerciser you may wonder if it’s safe to exercise outside during the pandemic.

The short answer is “yes,” said Janet Conner, an infection preventionist with North Colorado Medical Center. “Unless you are outside walking, running or biking with someone who is coughing, sneezing or has a fever, you are likely not at risk,” Conner said. “Your own neighborhood is the safest place right now, because you can maintain social distancing and easily keep your distance from others.”

However, a Belgian-Dutch white paper released in early April sent some people in a tizzy about the safety of outdoor exercise when researchers proposed joggers and cyclists – or those breathing hard, exhaling, coughing or sneezing – should actually be 65 feet from others. These distance guidelines are much further than what is being recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization.

The white paper referenced that someone breathing hard while running or cycling will “leave” viral particles in the air that someone behind them may inhale. By staying further apart from someone, it would give these particle droplets time to “move to the ground.”

Although it has not yet been peer reviewed, it has led to a huge debate on how likely these particles would make someone sick. Can you avoid exposure while exercising outdoors? Here’s some reassuring news.

“The UV light of the sun will kill SARS-CoV-2 as well as other viruses and bacteria,” Conner said. “The virus is also suspended in water and mucous droplets that settle out of the air, and with any wind currents, it will blow away. If you’re heeding social distancing, your risk is extremely low of inhaling the virus.”

If your indoor workouts are giving you cabin fever. Conner has these tips to ensure your safety while exercising outdoors:

1. Heed Social Distancing

If you plan to head outdoors for a walk, run or bike ride, maintain your distance – 6 feet between you and others. If you are hiking, choose a less popular trail or go at less crowded times. As exciting as it may be to gather at a park or neighborhood for an outdoor workout, don’t use outdoor exercise as an excuse to ignore social distancing.

2. Avoid Touching Your Face

“Always avoid touching your face unless you know your hands are clean,” Conner said. “A good way to know is imagining the virus as glitter. What would you do to prevent getting glitter in your eyes, nose or mouth? If it was on your hands, you’d wash it off.”

3. Wash Your Hands

Wash your hands before and after your workout with soap for at least 20 seconds

4. Stay Home If You’re Sick

If you have a fever, cough or are having difficulty breathing, stay home away from others to prevent “sharing” germs with others.

5. Don’t Go Overboard

Now is not the time to overdo it in the fitness department. If you aren’t used to a certain kind or amount of exercise, start out slowly to reduce your risk for overuse or repetitive use injuries.

What about wearing a mask?

It depends. If you’ll be exercising in an area where you’ll be crossing paths with lots of other people, it wouldn’t hurt. The CDC recommends wearing a mask in public settings where it’s harder to stay away from others, such as grocery stores.

When it comes to exercising, however, masks can be cumbersome and stifling for some. Instead find less crowded areas and avoid peak hours, so you can leave your mask at home.

“Masking does more to prevent the wearer from spreading germs than it does to prevent exposure to germs from others,” Conner said. “If you’re not ill and maintaining social distance, a mask isn’t necessary. Remember that fitness clubs and gyms are closed because it is not possible to achieve and maintain social distancing in indoor venues such as these."

Want more tips to ensure you and your family’s safety during the pandemic? Check out these helpful COVID-19 articles on the Banner Health blog. For the latest information on the evolving situation, visit BannerHealth.com or the CDC.

COVID-19 Infectious Disease Fitness Wellness
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