4 Exercise Safety Tips - Pandemic Edition

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Don’t let COVID-19 or the colder temps stop you from staying active during the winter months.

With fall upon us and winter already announcing her snowy calling in many parts of the country, it's certainly a beautiful time of year. But it's also one in which exercise and staying active can begin to take a backburner. With colder weather and our days darkening earlier, there are fewer daylight hours to work out in. And now, in 2020, there's a pandemic, and we are doing everything in power to avoid contracting and transmitting COVID-19. These are all understandable reasons, but really, only one of them is justifiable. Even still, there is plenty you can do to keep your body healthy with regular exercise during the winter months, all while taking safety precautions against the spread of illness.

Play it Safe Outdoors

While some parts of the country render it nearly impossible to exercise outside during the colder winter months, some states’ moderate climate makes outdoor exercise an opportunity year-round. Based on what we know right now about how COVID-19 moves, keeping activities where other people might be around isn't completely risk-free, but it's a safer bet than congregating indoors. If your desired exercise activities find you outdoors, try as best you can to keep them limited to the people in your immediate household whenever possible. When that isn't possible, or for safety reasons where the activity isn't one you should do alone (hiking, for example), wear a mask and maintain a physical distance of at least 6 feet or more from the other person. If you've been involved in a running, walking, or cycling club that boasts double-digit numbers, it is best to wait out these broader group activities until this pandemic has run its course.

Prepare to Mask-Up ALWAYS

On the outdoor exercise topic, I know it can "feel" safer than working out indoors, so the idea of not wearing a mask may seem justified. My advice is to enter into EVERY workout situation prepared to wear a mask anyway. While it is, for the most part, correct that your risk of contracting COVID-19 outside while exercising alone is relatively low, whether or not you'll be alone for the duration of your workout is the risk. If you're running in a suburban neighborhood, for example, there may be stretches of the run where you've got the street to yourself, and then others where you encounter an entire family (or two) out for their evening stroll. At the very least, always prepare to wear a mask (even if you're outside) when you find yourself in exercise situations where the ability to maintain a 6-foot distance from others continually is unpredictable, compromised, or impossible.

Towel It, Don't Touch It

Whether working out in the great outdoors or inside at a gym or fitness studio, be sure to bring a clean towel with you every time. Use it to wipe sweat from your face and avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with your bare hands. Though some fitness facilities are open with limited offerings in some parts of the United States, it is essential to know that using your equipment whenever possible is the safest bet. Though the research varies on how long COVID-19 can stay on surfaces and how far it can travel when airborne, the bottom line is that it CAN and DOES for some time, at least long enough for the person who visited the equipment you're about to use 5 minutes before you do.

Sanitize and Disinfect

Of course, there will be times when you will have to touch a surface that someone else touched, whether you're exercising or not. A stair rail during a steep hike. The door handle to the gym entrance. The squat machine. Touching stuff other people have put their hands on is unavoidable if you're exercising outside the home. Avoid high-touch or highly-utilized surfaces when you can, but come prepared with hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes if touching such surfaces can't be avoided. Better still, if you can find a restroom with soap and running water, you're best bet after a workout is to wash your hands vigorously with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

At the time of this writing, we are beginning to enter the colder months of our calendar year in certain parts of the country. And unfortunately, COVID-19 cases are on the rise again and face the real possibility of a “twindemic” with flu season here. While it is prudent to remain vigilant against this silent viral foe, you don't have to skip out on the many health benefits of staying active to do it. Even during this pandemic winter, you CAN achieve the benefits of exercise, all while keeping yourself and others safe.

Be well; stay healthy. We're still all in this together.

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