Should you keep working out at the gym? Staying healthy without spreading COVID-19

Is it safe to exercise at the gym

To exercise at the gym or not exercise at the gym?

That is the question many of us are asking in the face of the pandemic, COVID-19.

Let’s look at what the experts are saying about this . . .

On the ABC podcast Coronacast, Australian physician and journalist Dr Norman Swan mentioned that data coming out from China showed gyms were one of the high prevalence areas of COVID-19.

He stated:

“[At gyms] there’s so much sweat … and dampness is a bad thing for spreading germs. . . you’ve got these big blokes pumping away and they couldn’t give a damn about corona virus and one of them might be a super-spreader.”

On the topic of super-spreaders, there was a recent study that came out of Japan that examined 110 cases of COVID-19 among 11 clusters. The researchers looked at who acquired the virus from whom.

The researchers found:

“All clusters were associated with close contact in indoor environments including fitness gyms, a restaurant boat on a river, hospitals and a snow festival where there were eating spaces in tents with minimal ventilation rate.”

The study found that a primary case was less likely to transmit the COVID-19 virus in an open air environment. It was recommended that people reduce unnecessary close contact in closed environments to reduce super spreading events.

Now like a lot of gyms, my gym tends to be a sweaty place.

You move quickly around each station doing a circuit style high intensity workout. Each station is strictly timed so you don’t have long to wipe things down. To make matters worse, some people don’t always bring a towel and sometimes train with a cold.

I was starting to feel uncomfortable about working out at this place.

So I suspended my gym membership.

Bye bye gym. Hello outdoors!

Let me make it clear, it was not an easy decision to leave my gym.

Going to the gym has kept me sane and grounded for the past 15 years. I was a little worried about how I’d go. Would my mental and physical health suffer?

So I asked myself the question:

“How else can I get my needs met?”

I came up with a simple but effective plan. Here’s what I’m doing:

1. I use a free exercise app

At the gym, I had trainers telling me what to do. I needed something similar. A little guidance to get me going first thing in the morning.

I found an app that looked like it could be a good fit for me: The 7-minute workout by Johnson & Johnson. Some exercises I’m not comfortable doing (e.g. lunge side rotation), so I modify them (simple lunge).

7 minute workout app

Note: The app contains lots of workouts that go for much longer than 7-minutes.

2. I pack my exercise bag the night before

Just before going to bed, I lay out my exercise clothes and pack my workout bag. I collect everything I need for my morning workout:

• Drink bottle
• Phone
• Headphones
• Towel
• Yoga mat

When I wake up, I put on my exercise gear, grab my bag and start my workout routine.

3. I exercise outdoors

There isn’t enough space in my house to do jumping jacks and karate kicks, so I head outdoors. I started training at the local park. One thing stood out: it was really nice to be surrounded by birds and trees and see the sky. I felt free.

Doing ab crunches outside. This beats looking at a ceiling!
4. I use the Tiny Habits approach

I didn’t force myself to do my usual 45-minute gym workout. The fact I was moving was what mattered most. I said, “Even if it’s just for 7 minutes, it’s something. It’s a start.”

You see, I’m trying to form a new habit (i.e. exercising outdoors without instructors). So I had to ease into it and lower my expectations. According to Professor BJ Fogg, author of Tiny Habits, starting small would give me the best chance of success.

All that being said, BJ Fogg warns that even a 7-minute workout may be too much to begin with. He states:

“…if you haven’t gotten off the couch in a year, don’t start with seven minutes of strenuous activity. Start tiny instead…make your new workout habit radically easy to do. Scale back to doing one wall push-up. Just one. When you run into a setback – a cold, for instance – you can still manage to do one wall push-up, stuffy nose and all. By going tiny, you create consistency; by staying tiny, you get your new habit firmly rooted.”

Little tweaks required

With each training session, I realised some things weren’t working.

For instance, one morning I didn’t feel 100% safe training at my local park. I thought, “No problem. Let’s try another location tomorrow.” So I switched to training in my backyard.

Mosquitoes turned out to be a problem. So I purchased some insect repellent to deal with this. Problem solved.

This morning, I experimented with a 10-minute dance session before doing my main workout. This was fun but my playlist needs a little tweaking. I’ll spend some time today compiling a dance playlist.

To sum up

All in all, my new training regime is going well. I’m enjoying being outdoors, getting fresh air and hearing the sounds of nature. I’m also saving a fair chunk of coin by not paying for a weekly gym membership.

But more than anything, I’m a lot less anxious about catching and spreading COVID-19. I am doing what I can to stay healthy, flatten the curve and slow the spread of this nasty disease.

2 thoughts on “Should you keep working out at the gym? Staying healthy without spreading COVID-19

  1. Thanks Jane, This was helpful. I’ve stopped going to the gym too, and instead finding all sorts of reasons to stay on the couch.

    1. It’s great to practice social distancing Georgina!
      But don’t stop moving! Triceps dips on the edge of the couch? Step ups? You can do it!

      Stay safe,

      Dr Jane Genovese

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