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Infectious Diseases

Updated 19 March 2020

Coronavirus and the gym: Should you stay away?

Is going to gym putting you at risk of contracting the new coronavirus?

Gyms and fitness clubs are believed to be fertile ground for germs, with communities of bacteria living on equipment. Could this include the new coronavirus?

Dr Norman Swan, a physician and Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) journalist, says that gyms are "high risk" locations for the Covid-19 virus to spread, mainly because of the humidity.

In an ABC podcast, Swan mentions that, according to Chinese data, gyms are one of the high prevalence areas.

"It doesn't mean you should stop going to the gym, but you have to be super careful. So, you have to wipe down; you've got to make sure you have alcohol there; use hand sanitiser...

"I'm still going to the gym, but I'm wiping down before, and after, using hand sanitiser – I'm not taking any chances," said Swan.

Outdoor exercise

Head of Medical Virology at Stellenbosch University and the National Health Laboratory Services (NHLS) at Tygerberg, Professor Wolfgang Preiser told Health24 that sweat may or may not be an issue.

"Heavy breathing produces respiratory secretions, rooms are closed, there is an air conditioner – these are good conditions for such agents to spread. Train and exercise outdoors and keep a 2m distance from others, and all is fine.

"The heat in the sauna may not facilitate transmission, but the time before and after one showers, changes, chats – all of which are social activities in a gym – is best curtailed if one wants to stop the spread," said Preiser.

Hygiene and etiquette

When it comes to protecting yourself, Preiser said that regarding lifestyle changes, there are a few areas where one cannot go wrong:

"Get your flu shot this year (asap); wash your hands regularly, with water and soap (no fancy stuff); while out and about, use hand sanitiser with an alcohol content of over 60%, cough and sneeze into your arm and not onto people or into your hands, and turn away.

"This will help protect against all sorts of viruses etc., including the new one," added Preiser.

When it comes to practising good hygiene at gym, make sure you sanitise equipment before and after use. Invest in your own gym or yoga mat, and use your own gym towel. 

Try to not touch the mouthpiece of your water bottle and wash your gym clothes before you train again, along with spraying your gym bag with a disinfectant spray.

When it comes to using the locker rooms, always wear shoes to avoid picking up fungal infections, such as athlete's foot. Get out of your damp gym clothing and get showered and into fresh clothing as soon as possible.

Social distancing

President Cyril Ramaphosa pleaded with the nation to change their behaviour, as challenging as it may be, and stressed that the measures are aimed at curbing the spread of infections.

He mentioned that a number of ports will be shut down, and that non-essential domestic travel is discouraged. He also added that we need to limit contact with groups of people.

"While we appreciate the economic, religious, and cultural significance of social and community gatherings, the coronavirus is spread through contact between persons," said Ramaphosa.

The cabinet encouraged social distancing and decided on additional measures, including the prohibition of gatherings of more than 100 people like events government would have arranged for days like Human Rights Day. Schools will also be closing from Wednesday, 18 March until after the Easter Weekend (10 to 13 April 2020). 

READ | Avoid germs at the gym to protect your skin

READ | Coronavirus in SA: All the confirmed cases

READ | Outdoor gyms booming in SA

READ | Why gyms are fertile grounds for germs

Image credit: Getty Images