While the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread, causing running races—and many other large events—to be postponed and cancelled, you might be wondering what you should do for your own personal health and how this could affect your training.
We tapped David Nieman, Dr.PH., health professor at Appalachian State University and director of the Human Performance Lab at the North Carolina Research Campus, and Brian Labus, Ph.D., MPH, assistant professor in the School of Public Health at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, to help answer runners’ most frequently asked questions.
Is it safe to run outside?
Yes—in fact, it’s safer to be outside than inside when it comes to disease transmission. When people congregate together and someone sneezes or coughs, droplets get onto objects that people touch, and then people touch their face, Nieman explains. The best plan for running right now is to go out and run with a healthy buddy or small group and enjoy the outdoors.
Additionally, people might be afraid to run in the colder weather for fear of illness, but that’s not true; there is no data that you will get sick from really any respiratory pathogen when running in cold weather, Nieman says.
Getting in 30 to 60 minutes of moderate to brisk activity can help your immune system keep viruses at bay. Be sure you know what’s going on in your area and if there are any restrictions or mandatory self-quarantines. And, if you’re sick or at-risk of spreading the virus, you shouldn’t go out.
During a quarantine, Nieman suggests doing some exercise while staying where you are quarantined to keep healthy—doing bodyweight exercises or running on an at-home treadmill are great ways to do this. Unless you’re sick.
“If you do have flu or coronavirus, or have fever, sick people think wrongly they can ‘exercise the virus out of the system’ or ‘sweat it out,’ that’s a myth. It’s actually the opposite,” Neiman says.
Should you avoid running in groups?
Your exposure to sick people in that situation should be minimal, as someone who has a fever and a cough won’t feel like going for a run, Labus says. When in a group, you could protect yourself a bit by spreading out and avoiding unnecessary hand-touching. And of course, don’t forget to wash your hands when you get back.
Should I avoid touching traffic buttons?
The latest data with the novel coronavirus is that it does not last very long on objects outside because of the exposure to sunlight. In general, objects outside should have little virus on them, Nieman explained. However, there could be a problem if someone coughs into his or her hand immediately before touching a traffic button, and then you touch the traffic button after them. If you must touch the traffic button, do not touch your face after. Even better? Use a glove (then avoid touching your face), sleeve, or elbow.
Can Coronavirus be spread through sweat?
According to the CDC, transmission of the coronavirus happens between people who are in close contact with one another (about one and a half metres) and through respiratory droplets, produced through a cough or sneeze—not sweat.
Am I contagious if I have no symptoms?
This is one thing we don’t fully understand yet about coronavirus. You are probably contagious right before you begin to show symptoms, but we don’t know for what time period and we don’t know how contagious. It makes sense that you would be more contagious once you are coughing, but we don’t fully understand transmission yet, Labus says.
Social distancing is the answer right now, Nieman says. Experts are still trying to figure out how long the virus lives on objects, and the problem is that it appears to be highly contagious, spread easily by coughing and sneezing, and can be spread by people who don’t think they’re sick. That’s why hand-washing and not touching your face are so important.
Is my immune system weaker post-marathon or after a hard workout?
As you deplete your stores of glycogen, your immune system does not function as well as it normally does. That means in the hours following a half marathon or marathon, if you have been exposed to someone who has been sick with the flu or coronavirus, your bodies defences are down, Neiman says. Additionally, mental or physical stress—caused by running a marathon or a very hard workout—could slightly increase your chances of becoming ill, Labus explains.
“I would caution runners to avoid long, intense runs right now until we get through all this and just to kind of keep things under control,” Nieman says. “Don’t overdo it. Be worried more about health than fitness.”
However, that doesn’t mean you need to quit running or exercising altogether. There is a very strong connection between regular exercise and a strong immune system in the first place, so the long-term immune system benefits of running far outweigh any short-term concerns, Labus says.
Are gyms safe for indoor training?
While your gym of choice already sanitises machines and locker rooms and (hopefully) your fellow gym-goers are cleaning up after themselves and washing their hands, most gyms have implemented additional cleaning. And it may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface that has the virus on it, like a treadmill or weights, and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads. And, some gyms are temporarily closing out of an abundance of caution, so be sure to check your local gym and local public health recommendations before heading there for a workout.
Gyms, like Fitness First, Goodlife Health Clubs, and Snap Fitness, have issued statements to their clients about how each is tackling the virus—taking steps such as adding additional hand sanitiser and antibacterial wipes around the studios, and suggesting no high-fiving during workouts. Additionally, many studio classes, are temporarily closing certain locations as an extra precaution.
“Wipe down the equipment before you use it to make sure that you have removed any viruses the previous use left behind. You should also remember to wash your hands regularly, especially after your workout,” Labus says.
At-home workouts may be your best bet for keeping up your fitness routine and helping to ensure your own health and the health of those around you.
If my race isn’t cancelled, should I go?
You might be wondering what to do about the marathon you’ve been training for. Bottom line, no. As of March 15, the Australian government banned mass gatherings of 500 people or more, that are to be cancelled or postponed.
Nieman suggests that the goal right now is to avoid crowds and gatherings of people indoors and outdoors until we know better about how the virus can spread.
If my race is cancelled but there are other group run events in its place, should I go?
You might be seeing group runs or unofficial races popping up in your community in place of cancelled races. But any time people come together, there is a chance for the disease to spread.
In general, be mindful of your interactions with others and take basic steps to protect yourself, like washing your hands, limiting direct contact with others, and not touching your face, you can reduce your risk of many different infections, Labus says. Remember that, even though everyone is focused on coronavirus, flu is still circulating widely.
How dangerous is spitting while running right now?
Spreading COVID-19 via spit is possible, according to Amy Treakle, M.D., an infectious disease specialist with The Polyclinic in Seattle. “COVID-19 is spread by respiratory droplets when a person coughs or sneezes, and transmission may occur when these droplets enter the mouths, noses, or eyes of people who are nearby. Spit contains saliva but could also contain sputum from the lungs or drainage from the posterior nasopharynx,” she says.
Sorry, snot rocketeers: Treakle says shooting mucus out of your nose isn’t any better. “Having witnessed and participated in races, I think it’s appropriate to note that this would apply to projectile nasal secretions.”
How long can COVID-19 live on clothing?
Experts don’t yet know the risk of transmitting the virus from surfaces like clothing, Treakle says. But the World Health Organization reports that coronaviruses can remain on surfaces for a few hours up to several days. If your clothing gets hit by spit, avoid touching the area, and change your clothing as soon as possible, washing your hands afterward. To disinfect clothing, wash it in hot water and use the dryer’s high setting.
For the most up-to-date information, check resources like the Australian Government Department of Health and World Health Organization (WHO) regularly. This story will be updated as new information becomes available.