Are Gyms Safe Right Now? What To Know About COVID-19 Risk While Working Out : Shots - Health News As gyms open for business, new rules aim to limit the spread of COVID-19, including spacing equipment, regular cleanings and limiting attendance. But experts say it's still safer to exercise at home.
NPR logo

My Gym Is Reopening. Is It Safe To Work Out There?

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/884927215/891735368" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
My Gym Is Reopening. Is It Safe To Work Out There?

My Gym Is Reopening. Is It Safe To Work Out There?

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/884927215/891735368" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

All across this country, gyms and fitness centers are reopening, and you may be eager to get back to your normal exercise routine. Should you? NPR's Patti Neighmond reports.

PATTI NEIGHMOND, BYLINE: In some states where coronavirus cases are surging, gyms are closed, but in most other states, they're open. So deciding whether to go or not starts with assessing your risk, says Dr. Saadia Griffith-Howard, an infectious disease specialist with Kaiser Permanente.

SAADIA GRIFFITH-HOWARD: You have to make your own assessment of how risky it is based on knowing your medical situation. Are you someone who's at high risk for an infection?

NEIGHMOND: Do you have diabetes, heart or lung disease? Are you obese or over 65?

GRIFFITH-HOWARD: We know that that puts you at a bigger risk for having severe disease. And at this time with all of the unknowns about the virus, certainly, if it was someone in my family, I would suggest that they not go to a gym.

NEIGHMOND: If you're under 65 and healthy and really want to go to the gym, then Griffith-Howard suggests a checklist to assure the facility is taking adequate precautions.

GRIFFITH-HOWARD: Are they taking your temperature or not? Is the equipment spread out so that you're at least 6 feet away from other people who may be exercising with you? Are you seeing them clean the equipment? Are the staff wearing a mask? Are other clients in the gym wearing a mask?

NEIGHMOND: Most state guidelines suggest routine disinfection of all equipment before and after any use. And the absolute must - at least 6 feet of physical distance between everyone who's working out. Respiratory specialist Dr. Nikita Desai with the Cleveland Clinic says steer clear of small gyms and those with little ventilation.

NIKITA DESAI: Your best bet is going to be a gym that's larger, that is able to have windows open or have multiple floors or levels to allow for that physical distancing.

NEIGHMOND: More space and more airflow can help dilute the virus - that's a good thing, of course - since high-intensity exercise means a lot more heavy breathing. Immunologist Doug Reed studies airborne transmission of respiratory disease at the University of Pittsburgh.

DOUG REED: When you're exercising, exerting yourself, you're going to be breathing out more and breathing in more than you normally would be, and so the potential for being infected or spreading the infection would be that much higher.

NEIGHMOND: Particularly since people may be infected but not yet have symptoms. Others may be asymptomatic.

REED: I think with asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic individuals, there is accumulating data to suggest that they do produce a considerable amount of virus without their really being aware of it, and levels of virus that are found in the nose or in the throat are equivalent to people who are symptomatic.

NEIGHMOND: Some gyms recommend masks, but Reed says they can be cumbersome to wear while exercising.

REED: Especially if you're strenuously exercising, then you're tending to draw in more and exhale more air.

NEIGHMOND: If people take their masks off, it can be risky for others. Now, if you're thinking you might return to group exercise classes, think again, says Dr. Griffith-Howard. It can be difficult to keep 6 feet apart when moving around quickly.

GRIFFITH-HOWARD: As you're continuing the exercise, you may be breathing harder. People may be coughing. It may be hard to keep on masks. So, to me, I would have some concern about that.

NEIGHMOND: A small Korean study found infections spread rapidly among high-intensity dance classes. Yoga and Pilates classes with just seven or eight participants and little moving around saw no spread. The consensus among these scientists - if you're going to exercise indoors, your home is the safest, or if possible, exercise outdoors. Respiratory specialist Desai.

DESAI: I would be less worried about the jogger who is running past you for a split second and more worried about the person who is working out next to you without a mask for half an hour.

NEIGHMOND: Outside conditions lower the risk of transmission. Microbiologist Joshua Santarpia studies airborne virus at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

JOSHUA SANTARPIA: Outdoors you have sunlight, which has been shown to quickly inactivate the virus. And furthermore, you've got both the temperature and the air, sort of the outdoor conditions, and the airflow that will help dilute the virus away from you.

NEIGHMOND: Finally, consider your geographic location. Exercising indoors in hot spots where cases are surging is more risky than in areas with low infection rates. Patti Neighmond, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF LCD SOUNDSYSTEM'S "YEAH")

Copyright © 2020 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.