How to Stay Healthy at the Gym

Woman exercising at the gym

Over the last few days, we have seen the coronavirus situation escalate rapidly. With this has come some recommendations around exercise, and more importantly, around attending the gym.

As a result, you might be wondering whether there is anything you can do to stop the spread of germs at the gym and keep yourself healthy?

Or, if you should even worry about going to the gym at all?

Well don’t worry – we have got you covered.

With the spread of coronavirus, should you avoid the gym?

We are currently living in some stressful times – and for many of you, the gym offers an escape.

A way to destress and remove yourself from the issues that are taking over the media. A way to make yourself feel better and fight off the overwhelming anxiety that is facing us on a daily basis.

But is the gym a safe place to be?

First and foremost, it is important to note that sweat does not seem to be a means of transmitting the coronavirus.

So, for the most part, that doesn’t pose a huge issue at the gym.

However, some experts suggest that the coronavirus can live on metal, glass and plastic surfaces for up to nine days. This means that if someone with the disease touches any piece of equipment, you could potentially catch it.

Which I admit is a scary prospect.

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go.

Best tips for staying healthy at the gym

Heavy sled training

Fortunately, there are several things you can do to keep yourself (and everyone else) as safe as possible at the gym – and much of this comes down to placing a premium on gym sanitation.

  • Wash your hands thoroughly before entering and leaving the gym
  • Sanitize every piece of equipment before and after you use it
  • Avoid touching your face
  • Avoid peak times
  • Stay home at the smallest sign of illness

While each of these steps are quite simple, when in comes to preventing the spread of disease, they can have a huge impact.

What extra precautions are most gyms are taking?

With all of this in mind, it is important to note that this is not a battle you need to fight alone. In fact, many gyms are taking some very good precautionary measures to keep you safe.

  • Most gyms have increased their cleaning efforts, thoroughly cleaning down every piece of equipment up to three times per day.
  • Some gyms have stopped using free weights and machines in all their classes, opting for bodyweight exercises only.
  • Most gyms have offered to hold memberships if people are avoiding coming in due to illness
  • A lot of gyms have ‘banned’ high fives and hugs to stop the spread of germs
  • Some gyms have halved their group fitness classes, while others have stopped group fitness classes altogether
  • Almost every gym in the country has upped its game and offered numerous disinfectant tools around the gym floor

All of which are having a massive impact on the risk of infection.

Should I exercise during the coronavirus scare?

Despite the strategies being put in place, there is still an obvious risk of infection. Which begs the question – should you even exercise?

And in my mind, the answer to this question is a resounding yes.

Even if you choose to stay away form the gym, you should still try and get in some exercise. This could be going for a brisk walk, run, or bike ride, getting in a functional fitness session, or even a bodyweight workout at home.

And the reason? All of these can have a positive effect in your immune system.

Exercise and the immune system

There are several benefits of exercise on the immune system – however, to gain an understanding of this, we first need to outline how different types of exercise effect immunity.

And this comes down to two different factors:

  1. How acute (a single bout) exercise effects your immune system, and.
  2. How chronic (repeated bouts) exercise effects your immune system

Acute effects of exercise on the immune system

During a single bout of moderate intensity exercise that is less than 60 minutes long, you will see an increase in blood circulation throughout your body. This increases the transportation of immune cells, and causes an increase in the secretion of anti-inflammatory cytokines

These changes lead to a reduction in inflammation and an improvement in immune function.

However, if you are undertaking high intensity exercise for longer than 60 minutes, you see a down regulation of your immune cells – which is the exact opposite of what you see with moderate intensity exercise.

I should note that while this may seem overwhelmingly negative, if you give your immune system time to recover after this type of session, then it adapts to become stronger than ever – which leads us to our next point quite nicely.

Related Article: How Exercise Prevents Sickness

Does exercise boost your immune system?

If you exercise regularly and allow yourself time to recover appropriately, chronic exercise can have a positive effect on the function of your immune system.

And this holds true even the exercise program you follow is of a very high intensity.

As I alluded to above, a problem will only arise if you do not give your body enough time to recover after intense exercise.

Does exercise prevent cold and flu?

Female athlete exercising while sick

Research has shown that undertaking an exercise regime will help prevent against the common cold.

To put it simply, those who exercise more get the common cold less (Lee, 2014).

And this has also been found with the flu.

Interestingly, there is also evidence to suggest that exercise also makes the flu vaccine more effective, offering another benefit when it comes to preventing one of the most common diseases on the planet (Kohut, 2004).

Does exercise prevent coronavirus?

There is research demonstrating that exercise can prevent against a number of nasty viral infections. As such, it would not be a stretch to think that exercise may also protect against the coronavirus (Nieman, 2019).

Although, to date, there is no evidence demonstrating this with certainty.

However, we do know that people who are fitter and healthier tend to fight off viral infections more efficiently than those who are not. This means it is eradicated quicker, and the effects of the virus are much less severe.

So, if you are wondering if you should keep exercising with the current outbreak, then yes – yes you should.

The best way to prevent the spread of germs

Lastly, I wanted to finish on some general tips to prevent germs in your daily life. This will go a long way to keeping you healthy in the face of this horrible outbreak.

  • Cover your nose and mouth when sneezing or coughing
  • Throw away used tissues (in the trash) as soon as possible
  • Wash your hands regularly using warm soapy water (and for at least 60 seconds)
  • Stay home at any sign of illness
  • See a doctor at the first sign of cough or fever
  • Avoid touching your face throughout the day
  • Disinfect regularly used objects such as phones and computers before and after use

Again, implement these tips to keep yourself as healthy as possible.

Take Home Message

In the face of the coronavirus we are facing many uncertainties – especially around exercise.

However, that does not mean you shouldn’t exercise.

In fact, it doesn’t even mean you should avoid the gym. Given that exercise can boost immune system function and gyms are taking many precautionary measures, if you stick to the tips listed in this article you should be fine.

And of course, don’t panic.

References

Lee, Hyun Kun, et al. “The effect of exercise on prevention of the common cold: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trial studies.” Korean journal of family medicine 35.3 (2014): 119.

Kohut, Marian L., et al. “Moderate exercise improves antibody response to influenza immunization in older adults.” Vaccine 22.17-18 (2004): 2298-2306.

Nieman, David C., and Laurel M. Wentz. “The compelling link between physical activity and the body’s defense system.” Journal of sport and health science 8.3 (2019): 201-217.

Nieman, David C., et al. “Infectious episodes in runners before and after the Los Angeles Marathon.” J Sports Med Phys Fitness 30.3 (1990): 316-28.

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