Is Exercise Outside Safe As the Coronavirus Continues to Spread?

Another important consideration: Exercising outdoors, especially in the spring when allergy season is ramping up, can make you more likely to sneeze or collect snot even if you’re not sick, Irvin Sulapas, M.D., a sports medicine physician at Baylor College of Medicine, tells SELF. (That’s why runners are more apt to do the ever-pleasant snot rocket to clear out their nostrils.)

“When you are getting your heart rate up, you are going to take in more oxygen, and when you are trying to breathe in more air, you are going to breathe in other stuff too,” he says. You likely end up breathing more particulate matter in the air, which creates an irritant in your nose or mouth, causing you to cough or your nose to run.

If you have COVID-19 (even if you are not showing symptoms), your sneeze or snot rocket could contain viral particles, says Judd. It could make others sick if they come into contact with those viral particles, whether you’re running too close to them or they somehow touch the particles on the ground and then touch their face.

You should avoid spitting and snot rocketing now. You can carry tissues, or even try an over-the-counter nasal spray before you exercise outside to clear your sinuses, says Dr. Sulapas.

It’s important to remember that this is a stressful time for everyone, and people are understandably nervous about the many unknowns of the new coronavirus. For one, many people are worrying that the heavy breathing of runners can be more risky for disseminating viral particles. Judd says any viral particles that are exhaled during heavy breathing wouldn’t be able to linger in the air long (and wouldn’t be able to spread infection through the air if social distancing is maintained), but some experts are now wondering whether viral particles travel farther in the air than we thought and can stay there longer. Scientists still need to conduct more research before they can draw any definitive conclusions.

Be mindful of these unknowns. Be the one to cross the street or give a wide berth if you see someone walking outside. And if you can’t maintain that distance safely, it is time to pause your outdoor exercise routine (or try it at a quieter time).

Should you continue to exercise outdoors?

Given what is currently known about the new coronavirus, exercising outdoors for people who are not sick is likely safe, as long as they maintain the social distancing guidelines, says Judd.

But that’s not to say that you have to continue exercising outside. Whether or not you feel comfortable doing so depends on personal, individual factors, including how busy your neighborhood is, if you are in a higher-risk group for COVID-19 based on age or preexisting health conditions, and if your neighborhood has a higher concentration of elderly or at-risk people. (It’s also important to gauge the feelings in your neighborhood—lots of community social media groups are having active discussions on the topic—and behave in a way that acknowledges these viewpoints.)

If you do decide to exercise outside, make sure you are taking the necessary precautions and being responsible to distance yourself from others outside.

And be careful that you don’t go overboard. If you’re not used to a certain kind or amount of exercise—say, you’re used to doing fitness classes, but now are running several days a week—you may set up your body for injury, says Dr. Sulapas. Take it slow at first. To reduce your risk of overuse injuries, like shin splints, increase your mileage by no more than 10 percent each week, he says.

Whether or not you decide to exercise outside, keeping some kind of regular movement in your schedule can be beneficial during these stressful times. Not only is it helpful to your physical health, but the break it gives from your daily, at-home routine can give you a mental health boost as well, he says. (And be sure to cut yourself some slack if you don’t mentally feel up to a hard workout. Easy or moderate exercise can be just as recharging.)

A change of scenery can help, such as a walk around your block, but if you don’t feel comfortable doing that, even just taking a break to do bodyweight exercises in your backyard or an at-home cardio workout in your living room can help too.

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