Phase 2: Expert tips on how to stay safe in the gym, yoga studio and swimming pool
Experts say there's more you can do to stay infection-free, other than washing your hands with soap and practising safe distancing. CNA Lifestyle breaks it down for you.
With gyms, yoga studios, swimming pools and other sports facilities slowly opening as Phase 2 kicks in on Friday (Jun 19), your exercise routine may no longer be limited to just YouTube workouts, jogging in the nearby park, or pull-ups done on your door frame.
While you can look forward to picking up the camaraderie with fellow gym-goers from a distance (admittedly, exercising on your own is not motivating), you don’t want to pick up COVID-19.
So yes, you’ll still have to wear a mask when you're not exercising, keep 2m away from the next person, and gathering in groups of more than five is out of the question.
But other than taking care not to touch your sweaty face, keeping your distance from other people, and washing your hands post-workout, what else can you do to stay safe? Here are some tips from the experts to guide you in the coming weeks.
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CHOOSE A GYM THAT IS WELL-VENTILATED
Exercising outdoors is still your best bet. This is because “if an infected person is actively shedding the virus in a room that is enclosed, damp and poorly ventilated, this could increase the chance of viral transmission”, said Dr Mandy Zhang, an associate consultant with Changi General Hospital’s Sport and Exercise Medicine.
But if you prefer to hit the gym, choose one that is spacious and well-ventilated, said Dr Edwin Chng, Parkway Shenton’s medical director.
According to SportSG's latest advisory, the maximum number of gym-users is limited to one person per 10sqm. And no facilities, regardless of size, should admit more than 50 people without approval.
It is also important that the air in the gym is fresh and not recirculated, noted Dr Lou Ann Bruno-Murtha, the division chief of infectious diseases at Cambridge Health Alliance in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on Today in the US.
“If it is recirculated air, it should go through HEPA filtration so you know any pathogens or germs in that air are being removed before it’s being brought back into the room and you’re inhaling it,” she said.
WIPE DOWN EQUIPMENT BEFORE AND AFTER USE
Here’s why you’ll be wiping like Naomi Campbell on the plane. SARS-CoV2, the virus that causes COVID-19, can survive for up to four hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard, and up to 72 hours on stainless steel, said Dr Zhang.
To avoid touching those nasty respiratory droplets on the kettlebells or medicine ball from fellow gym-goers, your best bet is to wipe down any equipment with disinfectant wipes (not your towel) before picking it up, advised Dr Zhang. And do your gym-mates a favour, too, by wiping after use. No one wants your germs, COVID-19 or otherwise.
Let your gym know, too, that the machines should be placed 2m apart (if they aren't) in accordance with SportSG's advisory.
To further protect yourself, Dr Zhang recommended these tips for the gym-goer:
- Bring your own gear such as water bottle, towel and workout attire.
- Lay down a towel when using the gym machines.
- Stay home if you are sick.
- Go at off-peak hours.
WEAR WORKOUT GLOVES IF YOU CAN’T WIPE
If pausing mid-exercise to disinfect is not practical, wear gloves, suggested Dr Chng. And it goes without saying, don’t use your phone when you have your workout gloves on to avoid contaminating your device.
When you’re ready to hit the shower, remove the gloves first, then your mask. Put your gloves in a resealable bag before placing it into your gym bag to avoid contaminating your belongings. Wash them according to instructions after every workout session.
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TRY NOT TO SPOT YOUR BUDDY DURING WEIGHT TRAINING
To date, sweat isn't known to transmit COVID-19. But the virus could spread if an infected person has mucous, saliva or respiratory droplets mixed in the sweat, said Dr Zhang.
And sometimes, there’s no telling if you’re spraying your buddy with those droplets – especially when you’re breathing or talking just a metre from him. That distance is enough to transmit the virus, according to the World Health Organization.
Moreover, you are supposed to keep a distance of 2m from the next person; 3m if you're engaging in high-intensity workouts, according to SportSG. But if you must have a spotter, make sure your trainer is wearing a mask and isn't too close to you.
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AVOID GROUP EXERCISE CLASSES
Such classes can create an ideal environment for COVID-19 to proliferate: Many people exercising hard – and breathing hard – in a confined space. This was shown in a South Korea study published in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, which traced a cluster of 112 infections to a workshop for fitness dance instructors. Four hours of intense training were all it took to infect eight of the 27 instructors.
What does this mean for you? "Avoid clustering in the gym or exercising in large groups," said Dr Chng.
In fact, each class should have no more than five participants. If there is more than one group sharing a space, the groups must not interact and must maintain a distance of 3m between groups at all times, according to SportSG.
SPACE OUT AND BYO YOGA MAT
Even if fellow yoga enthusiasts aren’t huffing and puffing away, you want to be careful. To minimise coming into contact with someone’s respiratory droplets, don't attend classes that exceed five people.
During class, keep a distance of at least 2m from other yogis. And don't mix with people from other classes when you're done.
As for disinfecting your mat, spritz both sides with a disinfecting spray before and after every use. Read the disinfectant's label; if it says to let the solution dry, do so to allow the disinfectant to take effect.
Give your mat a deep clean whenever it starts to feel grimy. Hand-wash or machine-wash your mat (check the label) with mild laundry detergent and a cold, gentle cycle, recommended Carolyn Forte, the director of Home Appliances & Cleaning Products Lab at the Good Housekeeping Institute. Then, let the mat air-dry fully – never in a dryer – before rolling it up.
If yours is a rubber mat, don’t use cleaning agents with essential oils, said Forte. Instead, wipe down with a mixture of one part white vinegar to three parts water. Wipe it again with a damp cloth and let dry.
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ASK THE BOULDERING OR CLIMBING GYM HOW IT HANDLES DISINFECTION
If you’re working on your bouldering or climbing project in an indoor gym, note “that many climbing holds are made of plastic resins”, said Dr Jacob Sellon, a co-director of Mayo Clinic Sports Medicine in Minnesota, US, via email. And SARS-CoV2 “remains viable” on plastic the longest – up to 72 hours.
The surface’s texture matters, too. Viruses, on the whole, survive better on flat and hard surfaces than rough ones, said Dr Jyoti Somani, a senior consultant with National University Hospital’s Division of Infectious Diseases. “Gyms can also minimise transmission risk by maintaining frequent interval cleaning with effective products.”
You can check the gym's cleaning and disinfecting measures against National Environment Agency's advisory.
IT’S OKAY TO CHALK UP
CrossFitters, powerlifters, boulderers and climbers count on chalk to keep their palms and fingers dry, and improve their grip. But the use of chalk also means it gets everywhere – even the very air you breathe. Can COVID-19 hitchhike on those fine chalk particles and get inhaled into our lungs?
The odds are low, said Dr Somani. “This virus is mostly transmitted person to person with close contact and less so by heavy contamination of the environment by someone sick with COVID -19. There is no data that chalk particles or other such particles can then be easily and spontaneously aerosolised to cause infection.”
What about liquid chalk then? It dries to a fine, powdery finish on hands and doesn’t release loose chalk particles into the air. And it also contains alcohol – which has been known to kill pathogens. “At this point, I don’t think there is any research to reassure climbers that liquid chalk will protect them against COVID-19,” said Dr Sellon.
As for the chalk left on a pull-up bar or climbing hold, they pose low chances of infection, said Dr Somani. “This is especially if many people are touching the surface. The viral trace decreases, meaning that each person, over time, has a lower likelihood of getting enough of the virus to actually be infected.”
And you would also have to be touching your face, nose or eyes for the virus to enter your body, she said.
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TAKE CARE IN AND OUT OF THE POOL
Can COVID-19 spread through the water in swimming pools? Currently, there is no evidence demonstrating transmission via swimming pool water, said Dr Chng.
Moreover, proper pool maintenance and the use of chlorine should also “inactivate the virus in the water”, noted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the US.
But even so, you should still practise safe distancing in the pool. SportSG advised swimming classes to be limited to five people per group. No mingling with swimmers from other classes and maintain 3m between different groups.
Take care, too, when you’re out of the pool. For one, avoid touching any surfaces in the bathroom, especially the floor, if you want to avoid picking up germs. For that matter, don’t place your gym bag on the floor.
If the shower rooms are crowded after your swim, it might be better to head home and wash up instead. If you do use the public shower, don’t forget to practise good personal hygiene, such as not sharing towels, and washing your hands with soap after using the toilet.
For developments on the Phase 2 situation, check the SportSG website.