Do You Love Hitting The Gym? New Study Shows It May Be A COVID Hotspot

If you need a sign to try a Zoom fitness class or take an outdoor walk, this may be it. Researchers from Germany have found that the setting of your workout — especially if it's a gym filled with other people — may be a hotspot for potentially being exposed to COVID-19, as reported by TIME. Group fitness classes, team sports events, and packed gyms have been proven to increase the risk of the spread of COVID-19. The findings come from a study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. The science comes down to one of the established ways that COVID-19 can be spread, which is through aerosols — more specifically, through saliva particles that enter the air.

According to the study, the Germany-based research team found that people emit approximately 132 times more saliva molecules and aerosols into the air while they are working out — particularly during high-intensity training — than they do when they are at a resting heart rate. Additionally, University of Florida Research indicates that during moderate-intensity exercise, your breathing can increase seven to 10 times above your resting rate. During high-intensity workouts, this rate can increase as much as 20 times your resting rate. If you're working out around other people, or if you're playing a team sport like basketball or pickleball, getting your heart rate up and expressing significantly more aerosols near other people can increase COVID-19 transmission.

Staying safe while exercising

The recent study makes suggestions for mitigating the risk of COVID-19 infection through increased aerosols emitted by gym-goers working out in group settings (via WebMD). Recommendations include limiting the amount of time spent inside enclosed gyms and studios, taking outdoor breaks of at least 15 minutes between workout segments or group classes, maintaining a safe distance from other people who are also engaging in high-intensity exercise, and wearing a mask during exercise. The Mayo Clinic says that it is safe to wear a mask during strenuous exercise — research has shown that masks don't significantly inhibit blood pressure, oxygen levels, respiratory and heart rates, and time of exhaustion during moderate-to-intense exercise.

Another tip for staying safe in the gym and in other situations where the people around you may be emitting increased aerosols include bringing your own water bottle. This helps you avoid shared water fountains where there are likely to be saliva molecules. You can also use a fresh towel to wipe sweat from your face instead of touching the area around your nose and mouth with your hands. At the gym, wipe down equipment both before and after use, and minimize the amount of time you spend in locker rooms (per Everyday Health). It's also important to remain informed about current health information and protocols in your local area and to do your part in keeping others safe by staying home if you have been exposed to COVID-19 or are experiencing symptoms.