Update, Aug. 17: Gyms and fitness studios remain closed in many areas due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, though they've reopened in some parts of the country. Depending on your area and level of vulnerability, many doctors still recommend working out alone or only with people in your home. This post has been updated to reflect the CDC's latest recommendations.
Updated post: Right now, the open-or-closed status of nonessential businesses depends on your zip code. In some areas, businesses like restaurants, movie theaters, hotels, and gyms are still closed; in others, they're reopening; and in yet other cities and states, they're closing again after a second increase in cases. With the gym especially, there are even more factors to consider; due to the nature of gyms and exercise itself, you may be at a higher risk of catching the coronavirus at a fitness facility. With that in mind, experts are now encouraging people to follow local guidelines and stay at home as much as possible, including for workouts.
POPSUGAR spoke to three doctors about staying safe while exercising and whether a trip to the gym is worth it, even if your local facility is open.
Is It Safe to Go to the Gym During the Coronavirus Outbreak?
"Right now, it's probably best not to go to the gym," said John Whyte, MD, MPH, the chief medical officer at WebMD. Many communities are experiencing high rates of infection and asymptomatic spread, meaning that people who have COVID-19 without any symptoms may be unknowingly infecting others in public places, including fitness studios.
As doctors learn more about the virus, emerging research shows that gyms may be more dangerous than other public facilities. "Consider that gyms are usually closed spaces where air conditioning is used," said Anne Liu, MD, an immunologist and infectious disease doctor with Stanford Health Care. Many experts agree that being indoors with little ventilation and constant air recirculation (from air conditioning, for example) can facilitate the spread of coronavirus.
There's also the fact that when you work out, you start breathing harder, Dr. Liu said. Respiratory droplets — the major mechanism for coronavirus transmission — "fly a lot further than they would if you're just breathing normally," she said. And some people find it difficult or uncomfortable to exercise with a mask on, so they're more likely to wear it incorrectly or skip it altogether, allowing for more spread.
If you have a chronic medical condition that puts you at high risk of infection, or if you're the primary caregiver for someone at high risk, working out at home is better, said Aruna Subramanian, MD, an infectious disease doctor and clinical medical professor at Stanford University. If you personally are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, such as fever, tiredness, and dry cough, "You need to seek medical care and be tested," Dr. Whyte said. The situation may call for you to self-isolate and avoid coming into contact with other people. "Do not go to the gym or anywhere else if you have symptoms," Dr. Whyte advised. If you've come into contact with someone who's tested positive or is showing symptoms, you should quarantine as well. (Here's more on COVID-19 symptoms to watch out for.)
My Gym Is Still Open — Should I Go?
If your local government recommends staying at home, you should do so. If you aren't under a stay-at-home order and your gym is re-opening, "Weigh the risk of going to the gym, particularly when you can exercise at home," Dr. Whyte said. "If you do go, be sure to go when it is not crowded. Ask about their cleaning process, which should be at least a couple of times an hour. Don't linger, don't socialize. Get in and get out." Here are more safety factors to consider, including your gym's screening process and capacity limitation.
Dr. Liu added that you should wear a face mask as much as possible if you go to the gym. (Here are some breathable, workout-friendly options.) Stay away from others at a distance of at least six feet, wipe down surfaces before and after you use them, and use hand sanitizer "generously," she continued. It's also a good idea to shower right when you get home.
If your gym is open, it's going to be up to you to make the call. "If you have to do all of that, is it still worth it?" Dr. Liu said.
Can You Transmit Coronavirus Through Sweat?
According to Dr. Whyte, there is no evidence that COVID-19 is transmitted through sweat. "It is a respiratory virus, so the lung is where the virus attacks," he explained. "Sweat doesn't contain respiratory droplets, so there's no current beliefs that sweat is a source of the virus." That said, a sweaty surface could still be contaminated if it's been touched by an infected individual; there's simply no evidence as of yet that the sweat itself transmits the disease.
Should I Still Exercise During the Coronavirus Outbreak?
"One of the ways to effectively fight the virus to be healthy," Dr. Whyte said. "Being active is one way to do that, along with healthy eating." In fact, exercise may actually boost your immune system. With many gyms closed, at-home workouts are likely your best choice to keep your health up in this way. You can pull up a bodyweight routine or workout video to exercise right in your living room or garage. The workout may even boost your mood and relieve some of your anxiety.
Depending on where you live, it may also be safe to walk or run outdoors on your own, Dr. Subramanian told POPSUGAR. "It's a good idea to stay healthy and to exercise as much as possible, and being outdoors and getting fresh air is definitely recommended," she said. This is because you're not in a closed environment where recirculating air could continuously distribute the virus. Make sure to stay six feet away from others and check your local guidelines to see if outdoor walks or runs are safe in your area. If you know you won't be able to social distance, bring a mask along as well. Here are more tips on running outside safely during the outbreak.
POPSUGAR aims to give you the most accurate and up-to-date information about the coronavirus, but details and recommendations about this pandemic may have changed since publication. For the latest information on COVID-19, please check out resources from the WHO, CDC, and local public health departments.