How To Run Safely Amid Coronavirus Concerns

Answers to your most frequently asked questions as the virus continues to spread.


Jordan Smith |

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 Dr David Nieman, a health professor at Appalachian State University and director of the Human Performance Lab at the North Carolina Research Campus, and Dr Brian Labus, Ph.D, an 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—as long as you’re alone. 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 for a solo run and enjoy the outdoors, in noncrowded areas.

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 — the bigger concern is spreading it to those who are at high risk, such as the elderly or immunocompromised.

During a self-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 I wear a mask out on solo runs?

CDC guidelines have recently been updated to recommend “wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies) to help reduce the spread of the virus from spreading between people interacting in close proximity.” (Guidelines are rapidly evolving.)

“Really, what these announcements should mean to athletes, and to everyone, is that the situation we are in is very serious. And that we all need to consider the consequences of our individual actions on the community around us,” Ferrari says.

“Face coverings do two possible things — they contain spread from the ill and prevent inhalation in the healthy. The degree to which they achieve these things is debated, but one thing is not: they are only really effective if used properly. And most people are not trained to use masks properly. Even taking a mask on and off incorrectly can be risky and increase your hand-to-mouth exposure.”

Wearing a Buff gaiter or other moisture-wicking face covering while running as well as maintaining at least a 2-metre distance from others may help cut down on droplets being spread to others due to heavy breathing if you’re in an area where you may encounter others, Nieman says.

“The purpose of the mask is not to protect you, but to protect other people from you,” Labus says. “If that is the goal, going out solo and avoiding other people altogether is the best thing you can do.”

This means avoiding crowded areas, even if you get to your regular route and there are other people there, you should find a different place to go for the safety of everyone.

“This virus is highly contagious and transmissible, and it appears we cannot be too careful,” Nieman says.

However, wearing a cloth face covering is not a substitute for hand washing, physical distancing, or remaining at home when ill. The WHO has more resources on how to properly use masks.

READ MORE: The New Coronavirus Is More Likely To Be Spread By Pre-Symptomatic People Than Experts Originally Thought

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, 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 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.

READ MORE: Experts Are Warning You Not To Touch Your Face — But Honestly It’s So Damn Hard!

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 postmarathon 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.

How dangerous is spitting while running right now?

Spreading COVID-19 via spit is possible, according to Dr. Amy Treakle, 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.”

And, the spread of the particles being about 2-metrest (current safe social distancing recommendations) is based on people standing near each other and not fast movement or strong air currents. Those could increase or decrease that distance. In a scenario where someone runs into a sneeze or a cough, that would obviously present an increased risk, says Labus. That’s why it’s important to stay in your home if you are feeling sick or have been exposed to someone who is sick, in order to mitigate the risk of spreading the virus to others.

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.

This article was originally published on www.womenshealthmag.com

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