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Infectious Diseases

Updated 07 May 2020

Why it's even more important to distance while running – the danger is your 'breath cloud'

Uncomfortable while running with a buff or mask? Here’s why it’s important that you stick to this regulation.

When South Africa moved to Level 4 restrictions on 1 May 2020, masses of people gathered outside to enjoy a bit of exercise and fresh air – as we are  now allowed to exercise outdoors between 06:00 and 09:00.

Soon, however, running and neighbourhood community groups on social media expressed the same concern: too many people too close to each other, with many of them not covering their mouths and noses with buffs or masks.

Criticism of the regulation to cover one's mouth and nose came fast – as many people experience discomfort and laboured breathing when running with a mask.

However, even though it might be uncomfortable at first, it is vitally important that we stick to this rule and keep our distance from fellow runners. It's for our own protection.

Coronavirus and the 'breath cloud' 

But how is it possible to be vulnerable to the virus outside in the open air?

Dr Sanjay Gupta, chief medical correspondent for CNN, recommends maintaining a distance of 10 to 12ft (3–3.6m) from fellow athletes during a run. This is because of the heavy breathing during exercise. Runners' "breath cloud" may contain more virus, he points out.

According to Dr David Nieman, health professor at Appalachian State University and director of Human Performance Lab at the North Carolina Research Campus, running outdoors is safe, and you can still reap the many health benefits of exercising – as long as you keep your distance from other runners and cover your face and nose to avoid contact with sneeze and cough droplets.

Matt Ferrari, an associate professor of biology in the Eberly College of Science, also emphasised the importance of face masks and buffs as they do two things:

  • Partially protect you against airborne droplets from other runners
  • Protect others from droplets that you might spread through sneezing, coughing or heavy breathing

Don’t be scared of the outdoors, but be cautious

Want to take full advantage of the exercise window, but worried about your chances of getting infected with SARS-CoV2? You don’t have to be scared, however, as long as you act sensibly.

"It's good to get outside, get moving and get some sanity back in such a crazy time," said Grace Neurohr, a physical therapist and running specialist at Sinai Hospital of Baltimore.

Running "can provide some structure to your day and build a routine that can help keep you from feeling bored or unmotivated," she explained in a hospital news release. "It also can help ward off depression or anxiety by releasing endorphins, hormones that help us feel happier, more positive and even hopeful."

There are also physical benefits, including improved heart and lung health. And those who are physically fit have stronger immune systems and an improved ability to fight infection, Neurohr said.

Simply use a double-layered cloth mask or buff that covers your entire mouth and nose and don’t run close to other people. It’s important to wash your mask or buff as soon as you get back inside.

Even if we don’t currently have the luxury of choosing a specific time to run, be sensible and try and avoid streets where there are large groups of people.

If you want to incorporate some exercise into your routine, but can't because of time restraints or safety issues when running outside when it's still too dark, here are some tips on how to stay fit in the safety of your home.

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Image credit: Clique Images, Unsplash