Gyms are opening for the first time since lockdown this weekend. Stay safe with this advice on everything from wearing masks to social distancing.
If you’re anything like us then you’ve already got your favourite gym trainers waiting by the door, your most comfortable leggings folded in near reach and four months of motivation ready to take to the opening of the gyms this weekend. But despite how excited we are, we’re also nervous about the idea of being packed in a room with strangers and handling the same equipment others have been using.
While some early studies have shown that those who go to gyms are no more at risk of catching coronavirus, it doesn’t eliminate the risk of contact and we should remain as cautious as possible. Equipment in the free weights area such as barbells and dumbbells can contain high numbers of germs – more than 360 times the amount of bacteria than a toilet seat, to be precise.
While we’re sure all members of the gym are in agreement that sharing bodily fluids is far from our priority list right now, especially as we’re all working to keep each other and ourselves safe as lockdown restrictions ease, how do we actually avoid germs when were in a gym environment?
Should you wear a mask in the gym?
We know how important social distancing is, and most gyms have implemented a ‘zone’ system on their floors to ensure that customers stay at least two metres apart. “Coronavirus spreads through virus-filled droplets that come out of an infected person’s airway,” explains Dr Claudia Pastides, a GP for Babylon Healthcare. With the panting, heavy breathing, grunting and loud talking that comes in a gym environment, it’s very easy for droplets to spread, says Dr Pastides.
It makes sense to wear a mask then, right? Not so fast. The World Health Organisation states that wearing a mask when exercising can make it become wet more quickly which makes it difficult to breathe and promotes the growth of microorganisms.
If you feel more comfortable wearing a mask you must make sure that you leave it put: “If you’re going to keep touching it or removing it, you’re better off not wearing one,” says Dr Pastides, as touching the mask will spread germs from the gym floor to your face and visa versa, which defeats the whole object.
“To prevent you from needing to touch your mask, practice wearing it out for a jog or doing some exercise in your house first and see if you’re comfortable, can breathe easily and importantly, that it fits well and doesn’t move around,” suggests Dr Pastides.
Should you sanitise equipment in the gym?
Coronavirus can survive on surfaces for “anything between a couple of hours to a few days“, according to Dr Pastides, so uncleaned dumbbells could be ridden with germs. However, sanitising before and after use will help to keep you safe. All gyms will need to enforce members to wipe down kit, as well as do deep cleans at the end of each day, as per government guidelines.
But what about attempting to avoid touching kit directly? “Some might choose to wear gloves, but remember that gloves can offer a false sense of security if you aren’t washing or changing them regularly, or if you touch your face whilst wearing gloves,” says Dr Pastides.
And be aware that it’s not just the stuff that your hands touch that can spread the germs. Sanitise benches before lying your towel down on it, and be aware of stations like water fountains, as you never know if people have accidentally made contact either with their bottles or directly with their mouths.
Is it safe to go swimming?
The World Health Organisation says it is safe to swim in a properly maintained chlorinated swimming pool. “But of course if you come close to others and they cough or sneeze near you then the risk is still there,” says Dr Pastides. “It is unlikely the virus can live for more than 15-30 seconds in chlorinated water, you can still catch it from someone before you get in the pool, after you get out or if you swim very close to others.”
That means it is essential to maintain social distancing at all times while in and around the pool and the changing rooms. The government also advises limiting uses of changing facilities where possible.
It’s important to note that keeping healthy is as much about what you do outside the gym as what you do inside it. Eating well, resting and getting enough vitamins and keeping hydrated are all just as crucial as exercise in order to boost your immune system.
Other simple steps you can take include avoiding peak times, showering and washing your gym clothes as soon as you get home from the gym and ensuring social distancing at all times.
And remember: if you feel unwell or experience any symptoms of coronavirus, stay at home.
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Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).