How to Exercise Outdoors Responsibly in a Pandemic

As we continue to navigate new norms surrounding COVID-19, we’re trying to understand how we can conduct regular activities while remaining socially distant. To many, regular activities include working out; however, many gyms and recreational facilities have temporarily closed down as a result of the virus. These closures have made it tough for many to maintain a fitness regime.

To help share further insights on how COVID-19 has impacted outdoor physical activities, sports medicine specialist Dr. Chris Maeda with Pacific Medical Centers answered common questions about exercising outdoors during these changing times.

 

Q: Can going outdoors increase our chances of contracting COVID-19?

A: To avoid increased chances of contracting COVID-19 while outside, it’s important to remember to head out at slower times of the day. This is dependent on your neighborhood, as it may be early in the day while people are working, or later in the evening while people are eating dinner.

It’s important to follow social distancing guidance and remain 6 feet apart, or more, if you are walking, running, or cycling. The more distance you can allow between yourself and others, the better. When going out, you should always consider a plan A, B, and even C in case your first options are too crowded — this is especially important in our region for those who like hiking or even running stairs.

 

Q: Should you wear a mask and eye protection when exercising outdoors?

A: If you are comfortable wearing a mask while exercising outdoors, it is encouraged to minimize the risk.

It may be difficult to do when heavily exercising, therefore if you are able to keep more than 6 feet away from others, a mask may not be absolutely necessary. However, a mask is necessary to wear if you are in a crowded area and are unable to practice social distancing.

It’s important to remember, since anyone may be unknowingly infected with COVID-19, wearing a mask while exercising can help protect others and flatten the curve. For reference, the CDC has information on wearing a cloth mask to slow the spread of COVID-19.

 

Q: Is it safe to exercise outdoors with family, or should you exercise alone?

A: For this, let’s begin with what we know and discuss broadly. We understand that COVID-19 is spread through droplets released by infected people, such as when they sneeze or cough — and possibly even when talking or breathing. We know these droplets can remain in the air, especially in enclosed spaces. We also know people breathe more deeply during aerobic exercise. A person who is infected may have no symptoms and not know they are contagious. For these reasons, it is of the utmost importance to keep your distance from people you don’t live with when you’re exercising outdoors — both to protect yourself and your family.

When virus-carrying droplets occur outdoors, it is reasonable to think the concentration will be lower due to the open space. It is possible this would make the “viral dose” you might be exposed to less dangerous. You can lower your risk outdoors even more by maintaining a social distance of greater than 6 feet.

If you are running, walking, or cycling, there is a risk of moving through a coronavirus droplet cloud — however, my assessment is this risk is small overall, so long as you follow the social distancing rules and avoid crowded areas, it should be OK. My overall recommendation is to maintain a distance greater than 6 feet if you or others are running, walking or cycling outdoors.

 

Q: In your opinion, what are the best types of outdoor exercises during COVID-19? 

A: The best types of outdoor exercise include cardio and anaerobic workouts, as this can be a healthy stress reliever during these unprecedented times. At the very minimum, take walks around your neighborhood and try new routes that have inclines or stairs. Other activities to consider are running, biking, or hiking — crowd permitting. The main thing to remember is to keep your distance from others, the more the better. Additionally, with any exercise program, ease into your program. Start low and go slow to prevent causing overuse injuries.

 


 

Dr. Chris Maeda is a sports medicine specialist at Pacific Medical Centers at its Beacon Hill, Canyon Park, Northgate, and Totem Lake clinics. He received his degree from the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee and the University of Washington in Seattle. He has been voted one of Seattle’s Top Doctors 13 years in a row. Dr. Maeda’s medical interests include sports and musculoskeletal medicine, as well as ultrasound-guided injections. In his free time, he enjoys rock climbing, Judo, running, hiking, and mountain biking.

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