Is it safe to go to the gym?

If your local gym is closely following CDC guidelines, it is probably safe to visit during the COVID-19 pandemic. But it’s not necessarily worth the risk, experts told the Washington Post and the New York Times

Workout enthusiasts may find their gym memberships reinstated soon, as dozens of states have allowed gyms to reopen their doors in May. National studios and gyms—including Orangetheory Fitness, SoulCycle, Gold’s Gym, and 24 Hour Fitness—have begun to welcome back calorie-burning customers this month. 

Each business has created a unique plan to prepare its venue to follow CDC guidelines. For example, at Orangetheory Fitness studios, instructors are required to wear masks and gloves and to get a daily temperature check. Classes that usually have a capacity of 24-36 people now only allow 10-12 people in the studio. Classes have been shortened from one hour to 45 minutes to allow extra cleaning time between classes.  

Even with extra precautions, it is impossible to eliminate the risk of transmission in a space where so many people will be touching the same equipment and breathing heavily.  

Dr. Deverick Anderson, director of the Duke Center for Antimicrobial Stewardship and Infection Prevention in Durham, N.C., said in an interview with the New York Times that gym equipment is especially difficult to sanitize. 

For example, dumbbells and kettlebells “are high-touch metal, with strange shapes and many different places people can grasp,” he said. 

Boris Lushniak, dean of the University of Maryland School of Public Health, told the Washington Post that he’d probably stick to exercising outdoors until states reached their final reopening phases. The higher risk of transmission from people who are breathing faster and higher was his primary concern. 

Even with appropriate distancing, gyms that don’t have proper ventilation systems pose a problem. 

Bert Blocken, a professor of civil engineering who studies airflow in buildings and around bodies, told the Times that exercisers produce many respiratory droplets when they breathe heavily. If the gym is not adequately ventilated, those droplets could fall inside the facility. He recommends a system that continually refreshes inside air with filtered air from outside.

There are also steps patrons can personally take to increase their safety at the gym. 

Plan to use plenty of disinfectant spray that meets the Environmental Protection Agency standards against the coronavirus. Wash your hands upon arrival and before you leave, and disinfect equipment before and after you use it. Leave the disinfectant spray on machines for at least a minute before wiping it to ensure it kills all germs. 

To maintain as much distance as possible, avoid working out directly next to someone else. Gyms should only be operating at a 25% capacity, so it’s possible to leave a few machines between yourself and other visitors.

Exercisers should ask themselves whether returning to the gym is truly essential. With so many digital classes available and plenty of room to run outside, it’s certainly possible to get a good workout at home.

Sources: Washington Post, New York Times, CDC 

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