As people around the world try to go back about their daily lives, more and more businesses are opening up. Doing so safely, however, comes with a lot of added precaution. We’ve already written about the potential dangers of using public restrooms – a hazard that we may have to face when venturing into any public space. In addition, some businesses by their very nature seem like a bigger risk for spreading disease than others. The gym – with its shared equipment and lots of heavy breathing by sweaty individuals – is at the top of this list. So, what will things look like when we’re able to go back to the gym, and is it safe?
Is it safe to hit the gym again (when they open)?
Unfortunately, gyms are germy. There’s no way around this.
“When you have a relatively high density of people exercising and sweating in a contained space, you have conditions where communicable diseases can spread easily,” Dr. James Voos, at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Centre told The New York Times. Unless you’re just going to the gym to keep up appearances, you’re probably going to be doing a fair amount of heavy breathing (or in my case, gasping for breath).
Bert Blocken, a professor of civil engineering at Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands, says that’s why social distancing in facilities like gyms is especially difficult. He studies airflow in buildings and around bodies, and says that when exercising and breathing heavily, we produce a whole bunch of respiratory droplets which can linger in the facility, and drop onto equipment. Even if that equipment was wiped down by the last person who used it, this can make it all germy once again.
While studies show that standardised infection control protocols – that is a disinfecting regimen – can reduce bacterial and viral burden in athletic training rooms, this requires them to be thoroughly, frequently, and properly implemented. Keep in mind that cleaning gym equipment, which comes in a variety of shapes and sizes, and has numerous places for people to grip onto, is particularly challenging to clean.
“That’s a bigger undertaking than it’s billed,” writes A.J. Perez for Men’s Health, “and one that some experts are not confident will be feasible even under the most stringent conditions.”
A lot of gyms that have been reopening around the world have taken to checking the temperatures of members upon entry, to insure that none of them are running a fever. But this measure is useless when it comes to asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic infected people or “silent spreaders”.
According to the BBC, these people, who may not look or feel ill at all, can spread the disease by simply having a conversation. “Simply breathing or talking to someone can do the job,” writes David Shukman. “If the virus is reproducing in the upper respiratory tract at that time then it’s possible that some of it will emerge with each exhalation. Anyone close enough, especially indoors, could easily pick it up”.
It seems, if you want to go back to the gym, that you’re going to have to accept the fact that you’re putting yourself at risk at least to some extent.
What can gyms and gym-goers do to prevent viruses from spreading?
There are a few things that can be done, by both gyms and their clients, to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, if not prevent it completely.
- Gyms need to provide numerous sanitisation stations at which members can find disinfectant and clean cloths or bleach wipes (standard all-purpose wet wipes don’t work against the virus). It’s recommended that they also provide a hand-washing station with soap and water for every member to use upon entry to the facility.
- When spraying disinfectant onto a surface, it’s recommended that you don’t wipe it off immediately, but give it some time to do its job. About a minute should be fine.
- Additionally, do not rely on the good manners and cleanliness of strangers who have used the equipment before you. Wipe everything down before and after use.
- Members should avoid drinking fountains, and instead take their own water bottles along.
- Gyms need to be well ventilated, preferably using a system that replaces inside air with filtered air from outside constantly.
- Members will have to wear masks, but the effectiveness of these is dramatically reduced when they’re damp – as in when you’ve been sweating in them. Speaking to someone while either of you has a sweaty mask, therefore puts you both at greater risk.
- Some gyms that have reopened in the USA have removed furniture from lobbies and waiting areas, and implemented contactless check in. Others have requested that members pre-book gym times to insure that the number of people in the facility at one time remains low.
I miss my daily visit to the gym..well..daily. But it’s going to be a while before I consider it safe to go back there.
Whether to return or not is going to be a personal decision, the results of which differ for everyone. Keep in mind that any viruses you’re exposed to in the gym will be shared with the members of your household, and the decision to go out anywhere at this time affects everyone you come into contact with. Deciding to go back or to avoid it a little longer is going to depend on how highly you value working out in a shared space over your health, and the health of those you live with.