COVID-19: Exercise

Every physician knows that exercise is the universal preventative and treatment for almost every chronic condition. Yes, there’s debate about what kind of exercise and how much exercise and how often and how intense exercise should be, but these are details. Simply put, exercise is the best way to keep at bay most of the ills of our 21st century lifestyle.

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has upended the exercise routines of millions of Americans. Obviously community gyms with their confined spaces and contaminated surfaces are off the menu. But so too are everything from taekwondo to tango, where multiple partners are involved. And while working out alone in confined spaces has been pretty much perfected by prison inmates (see Jailhouse Strong, for example), these workouts developed as a workaround while being in prison, may not appeal to everyone. Devoted gym rats may enjoy the convict-conditioning regimen during COVID-19 confinement, but for many, the out of doors is preferable.

The benefits of being out of doors for mood and health and vitamin A synthesis are well known. With a few modifications, outdoor exercise will continue to be many peoples’ go-to diversion in these difficult times. Here are a few observations on exercising outside in the time of coronavirus:

1. Social Distancing
Social distancing is still important, but being outside makes social distancing much more effective. Simply having more air in which to dilute viral droplets and aerosols makes social distancing more effective, and even a slight breeze brings washes away contamination. As the operating room mantra has it: “The answer to pollution is dilution”.

2. 20 feet
That said, because lots of space is available out of doors, well, “twenty feet is the new six feet”. Really- the more the better. There is some concern that bicycling in a tight pack subjects those behind the leaders to greater risk, but because any droplets are diluted in very large volumes of air when cycling these concerns are more theoretical than experimental. Still, no need to crowd those ahead of you, if only to avoid real accidents which can still happen, even in the time of COVID-19.

3. Wear a face mask
Face masks are less important when out of doors and well separated from other people. But because you never know when you (or one of your companions) might sneeze or cough, why not wear a mask anyway? Not only does it provide some protection to you and anyone accompanying you, but it makes a statement: “We’re all in this together, and I take your welfare seriously.” And, if breathing through a mask adds a little effort to your run, well, just think of it as a bit of resistance training.

4.No shoes in the house
“But what about my shoes?” Well, yes, all those coronavirus laced droplets eventually drop to the ground and if you run or walk any distance, well, you’ll likely step right in some. The good news is that as you continue to walk you’ll be wiping some of those droplets off the bottoms of your shoes, so, likely your shoes tracking coronavirus into your house won’t be a big issue. Nevertheless, why not take this opportunity to become a “shoe free” household? There will be less vacuuming for sure, even if the bacteriologic benefits are conjectural.

5. Walk!
Finally, as Hippocrates observed: “Walking is man’s best medicine.” Even if the only exercise you can manage in these times is going for a walk, luckily enough, walking is the best medicine. If our COVID-19 down time helps walking become part of your routine, well, it may be a benefit that long outlasts this virus.

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