I miss my health club. I miss the floor to ceiling windows, the endless row of treadmills, and every weight machine you could dream of. I miss chatting with friends. I miss the classes and the freedom to be able to walk around and jump from machine to machine without any fears of contracting a deadly virus. To be fair, I always worried a bit about germs at the gym, but not deadly ones.
States within the US are mainly opened now, at least partially. And other countries are doing the same. When we were all under lockdown, the decision was made for us, but now, with health clubs beginning to reopen, it’s up to us to decide what to do next.
Is it safe to return to health clubs?
The health clubs in my area are still closed as I write this. But that’s likely to change soon. My state is set to move into another phase in the next couple of weeks, which will allow for gatherings of up to 50 people at a time. Health clubs will be allowed to reopen.
How this will be done while still keeping the gathering under 50, I can’t imagine. My local gym is a large facility with hundreds, maybe thousands of members. They can limit class size, but how do they limit how many people are in the locker rooms at the same time, or in the cafe, or the main workout floor with all the machines?
Yet, it’s up for them to figure out. These are not my problems. My problem is deciding what risk I’m taking by going there and is it worth the risk.
Can you really catch the virus from asymptomatic people?
Let’s get this one out of the way first. Yes, you can absolutely catch Covid-19 from a seemingly healthy person.
You may feel that if someone is well enough to work out, this means they are healthy and cannot spread Covid-19. The World Health Organization (WHO) caused confusion recently with their statement that asymptomatic spread is rare. Almost immediately expert virologists, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, were quick to point out this is wrong. The WHO itself called this a “major unknown” the next day.
Dr. Fauci says the evidence shows 25% to 45% of people with Covid-19 don’t show any symptoms. Yet can still transmit the virus.
To add to that are all the pre-symptomatic people that have viral loads high enough to spread the disease, yet don’t start feeling sick for a few days. Studies show the incubation period of Covid-19 is 3 to 14 days with an average of 5 days.
This is not uncommon to Covid-19. It’s how many viruses are spread. The common cold is also a type of coronavirus. It incubates for up to two weeks before the infected person has any symptoms. It’s not farfetched to imagine Covid-19 works similarly.
How many cases are in your local area?
This will be a big indication of how safe venturing out in public is. Keep in mind that sometimes reported cases are behind the spread, but watching your local area for spikes or other signs of spreading is a good way to know your current risk.
Something to look for includes not only the number of cases in your state and county but what is the percentage of positive cases? If the percentage stays under 5% for two weeks or more, although not a zero risk, at least you know your local area is on top of testing and contract tracing. Meaning the risk of catching the virus is lower than in areas that do not have adequate control measures.
Are you in a vulnerable group?
If you’re at a higher risk due to age or a medical condition, you should be continuing to shelter in place. Health clubs are enclosed areas with lots of sweating and heavily breathing people. Even if the risk in your state is low, it’s not zero. This virus is still out there.
Similarly, if you live with or come in contact with someone with underlying conditions, you may want to consider how your actions could bring the disease home to them.
If you’re unsure about the safety of going to your health club, ask your doctor.
Should you wear a mask?
Wearing a mask helps control the spread of coronavirus. Some states require that you wear face coverings at all times in public when social distancing is not possible. The question is, will people follow this rule while working out?
A mask is undoubtedly going to be harder to work out in. Although cloth masks are thought to be safe, they aren’t the most comfortable things to breathe in, especially when doing an aerobic activity that gets your heart rate up. Further, experts tell us that when you sweat and your mask gets damp, it becomes less effective.
So yes, wear a mask if you can. But know, that even if every person in your gym wears masks, they may not be as effective as usual.
If you do go
If you do decide to hit the gym, there are some steps you can take to minimize your risks.
- Disinfect equipment. Gyms should be stocked with plenty of disinfectant spray bottles. Use these before and after you use the equipment.
- Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer. Your gym should have a station at the door for everyone to clean their hands upon entering the building. Hit this station up as you’re leaving as well.
- Touchless sign-ins. Health clubs should not be requiring you to touch anything when signing in.
- Keep your distance. Follow the 6' social distancing rule. Hopefully, your club will have separated machines or taped some off to ensure everyone keeps their distance.
- Open windows or have good ventilation. If you take classes in enclosed rooms, you will have less risk if the windows are open. If it’s a windowless room, it needs to have a good ventilation system.
- Use your judgment. If you walk in and feel uneasy about anything you see whether it’s poor cleaning practices, crowded conditions, or no mask-wearing, feel free to leave. You can always make a phone call from home to the gym owners to talk to them about how they are keeping their facility as safe as possible.
Alternatives to staying healthy without going to the gym
If all of this sounds like too much and you’d rather not take the risk, there are plenty of ways you can keep healthy. Exercise is a great way to improve your overall health both mentally and physically. It’s really important to find ways to stay active in a manner that you feel is safe for you.
Outdoor activities may be the way to go this summer. Socially distanced yoga in the park, walks, runs, bike rides, and hikes can keep you fit without being in an enclosed area. And there are virtual exercise classes and strength workout you can do from home without using any weights, like squats and pushups.
As much as I miss my gym, I’m going to take advantage of the warm weather this summer and get my workout fix outdoors. Many restaurants have moved to outdoor dining, I hope that health clubs can follow their lead and find creative ways to keep us active while staying safe.