Memorial Day marks the unofficial start of summer, and many of us are ready to break out of our quarantine lockdown and return to active lives. In late 2019, news of a new contagious virus called COVID-19, which stands for “coronavirus disease 2019,” began to emerge. Though it initially appeared in Wuhan, China, this virus has since spread to almost every country, including the United States.

What do you need to know about the coronavirus outbreak when it comes to working out at the gym? More specifically, how can you keep safe and healthy amid concerns of this or other infectious diseases, preferably without fearing them or giving up on your fitness goals? While the concern over COVID-19 appears to be growing, there are several actions you can take to help protect yourself and reduce the spread of the virus.

The World Health Organization says they’re not sure how long COVID-19 can survive on surfaces. However, the estimate is anywhere from a few hours to several days. How do you keep these and other germs from spreading? The key to keeping the gym safe and healthy is to make it harder for germs to survive. Here are a few ways to achieve this goal.

Wash your hands before and after a workout. Washing your hands regularly, with soap, is one of the most effective ways to keep the coronavirus from spreading. Yet research shows roughly 40% of Americans don’t take this necessary step after using the bathroom. Make washing your hands a workout habit. Use hand sanitizers. Will hand sanitizer prevent you from getting the coronavirus? The CDC reports that while it isn’t as good as soap and water, using a sanitizer that is at least 60% alcohol is the next best option. It won’t kill all the germs on the hands, but it can help reduce them.

Wipe down gym equipment often. Your gym should supply disinfectant wipes or cleansers so members can wipe down equipment between uses. This is especially important for the areas that you are touching (bars, dumbbells, bike handlebars and machine hand grips). Because the coronavirus has a long incubation period, it’s impossible to tell who may be infected. Because multiple people use gym equipment, it’s important to clean it often. Getting rid of the virus is the only way to keep it from spreading. So remember to wipe down the gym equipment before and after use.

If you feel sick, what do you do? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that businesses “actively encourage sick employees to stay home.” This should also apply to gym-goers. Learn to recognize the symptoms. The WHO says that the most common coronavirus symptoms are fever, tiredness and dry cough. Other flulike symptoms may also appear, such as aches and pain, sore throat, congestion and diarrhea. If it is flu season, feeling ill doesn’t automatically mean you have COVID-19. Either way, follow CDC recommendations and stay home so you don’t infect anyone else. And if you start to feel worse or have an underlying medical condition, you should seek immediate medical treatment.

It is best to continue to practice “social distancing,” which involves increasing the distance between people to stop the spread of the virus. Be conscious of your surroundings so you don’t block walkways and give other members ample space to move.

In the end, is it safe to work out at the gym until the coronavirus is more contained? The consensus seems to be that, if certain cleaning and hygiene processes are followed, it is. However, if there is any concern over this whatsoever, it may be more beneficial to find other ways to work on your fitness, including home workouts, until you’re more comfortable returning to a public environment.

Keep in mind that while exercising is a great way to help you create a body you love, the most important reason to exercise is to improve your health and strengthen your immune system. Engage in healthy habits. The healthier you are, the better your ability to avoid becoming a victim of the outbreak. This means eating healthy foods, exercising regularly, getting enough rest, and controlling your stress.

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Perry Buchanan, owner of PT Gym, is certified as an exercise physiologist through the American College of Sports Medicine, and fitness nutrition specialist through the National Academy of Sports Medicine. Email him at perry@ptgym.com. Follow @ptgym on Twitter.

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