Gym safety: How to exercise safely during COVID-19


by David Winter, MD

Mar 25, 2021

Exercise for each and every one of us is important — and exercise during the COVID-19 pandemic is equally, if not more, important. No matter what type of exercise is right for you, it’s a way to not only keep your body moving, but also give your mind a break for the sake of your mental health. 

The caveat? Exercise these days can be challenging, and it can carry some risks.

Recently in a Chicago gym, 81 exercisers worked out together and in the next week, 68 percent of them came down with the COVID-19 virus.  Though they were all spaced out 6 feet apart from each other and at least a quarter of them were wearing masks, they still got sick.

So, what happened? Here is the issue: When you breathe heavily, germs can spread much further than you may think. We have all heard that viral particles can travel up to 6 feet in the air with normal conversation. Thus, the physical distancing recommendation is to stay 6 feet away from others who may harbor the virus, and, with asymptomatic carriers, that could be almost anybody. 

But when exercising, those particles can travel further than just 6 feet, so safety measures are even more important if you are heading to the gym or working out around others.

Wear a mask

Masking can make a difference. Now, I know it is not easy to breathe through a mask when exercising, but it can definitely help. Double masking has additional advantages.  

Take precautions

Wearing a mask is the big one, but remember it’s also critical to make sure you take other safety measures, including:

  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Wash your hands before and after with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. 
  • Disinfect all equipment before and after using.

Consider the ventilation

You may also be thinking, “what about ventilation?” Recycled air is certainly on the viral spreader suspect list. Outdoor exercising is the safer alternative, as are gyms with open windows, which both may be challenging in some weather conditions. But, if the weather in your area permits, grab your water bottle, head outside and get moving! 

If you’re looking for inspiration, try this 30-minute bodyweight workout you can do anywhere.

Choose a low-risk gym option

In order to maintain good health, find a way to exercise that minimizes your risk. That includes exercising at home, exercising outdoors and if you choose to head to the gym, choosing a lower risk gym. 

What’s considered a low-risk gym? A gym that has fewer people around and enforces a strict masking policy has a lower risk of spreading disease. Another risk reducer is distancing farther than 6 feet away from others — in fact, as far as possible away from others.

Staying healthy during the pandemic (and beyond) means healthy exercise, eating well, getting good sleep and most importantly, taking precautions so you don’t get coronavirus. Do your part by masking up and keeping those around you safe. And of course, get vaccinated at your earliest opportunity.

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About the Author

David Winter, MD, is an internal medicine physician on the medical staff at Baylor Scott & White Signature Medicine – Tom Landry.

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