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How to Stay Safe at the Gym During Cold and Flu Season

Best practices for avoiding gym germs

woman using the gyn during covid and flu season

There’s many reasons why exercise and going to the gym is good for us. But now (more than ever) if we’re not following the proper guidelines to stop the spread of germs, our well-meaning habit could end up hurting our health and those around us.

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So how do we reduce our risk of illness and keep each other safe at the gym this cold and flu season? (And also in the middle of a global pandemic!) Sports medicine specialist Caitlin Lewis, MD, gives these tips for avoiding gym germs and staying healthy.

  • Wash your hands regularly & don’t touch your face. A harmless nose itch while you’re lifting weights or wiping sweat from your eyes can transfer germs from your hands to your face without even realizing it. Wash your hands before and after the gym and use hand sanitizer as a substitute in-between.
  • Bring your own essentials. Avoid germs by bringing as much of your own equipment and necessities as possible. From water bottles, to towels, to yoga mats.
  • Skip the locker room. If you can, avoid high traffic areas like the locker room. Germs like wet, moist areas and showers, saunas and steam rooms are perfect breeding grounds. Also consider showering at home and not lingering in your sweaty, dirty gym clothes after your workout.
  • Wear a face mask. Yes, working out in a face mask takes some getting used to, but gyms are crowded, indoor areas where people are breathing heavily. Your best defense for protecting yourself and those around you is to find and wear a face mask that you can comfortably and safely exercise in.
  • Avoid peak times and use caution when attending classes. Figure out when your gym is most crowded and schedule your workouts outside of those hours. Ask about the protocol for group fitness classes and make sure those guidelines include fewer people, social distancing and individual equipment.
  • Sanitize. Disinfect all equipment and machines both before and after use.
  • Be mindful of other people. You can only control your own actions, but be mindful about those around you. If someone is coughing and sneezing in the free-weight area, move to another section of the gym. The same goes for overcrowding areas. If the squat machine is already in use, don’t hover and move on to another part of your workout.
  • Avoid using gym daycare services. Tread carefully with utilizing gym daycare services. It’s a less controlled environment than a typical daycare that your child attends every day with the same kids.

Try to prolong outdoor exercise

Many people will soon head back indoors to gyms when the weather breaks for fall and winter, potentially making it more crowded than it may have been in the spring and summer.

“If you can, I would recommend trying to exercise outdoors for as long as possible,” says Dr. Lewis. “Or find an at-home program you enjoy and can stick with.”

If you’re feeling sick…

If you’re feeling sick (especially this year), just stay home. Cold and flu season mixed with the COVID-19 pandemic is a threat to everyone and your daily workout isn’t worth putting other people’s health at-risk.

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Missing a day or two at the gym isn’t going to undo all your hard work or cause you to lose your gains either. In fact, allowing your body to rest and recover could help you bounce back quicker than just trying to power through.

That being said, some people feel better after a good sweat sesh, especially if they’re congested or their sickness is very mild. The increased blood flow and movement can sometimes do the body good. In these instances, Dr. Lewis recommends playing it safe and choosing an at-home workout or walking or running outside in a non-crowded area. You’ll want to pay attention to how you’re feeling and modify the workout if you become fatigued or feel worse than before.

We’re still learning about COVID-19’s long-term implications, especially when it comes to the heart and athletes, says Dr. Lewis. So if you’re diagnosed with the virus, you’ll need to check with your doctor once you recover for a graduated return to exercise program. Your doctor will work with you to ensure your heart and lungs have recovered and it’s safe for you to return to the gym or training.

Still, it’s even more crucial this year to get your flu shot to help fend off illness.

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