Staying Physically Active with COVID-19

coronavirus COVID-19

COVID-19 is affecting the daily lives of people across the globe. Exercise can still be performed while maintaining social distance.






Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) has spread across the across the globe and is impacting many peoples lives. Should it be impacting our exercise regimen?

First, it is important to know the basic disease facts of COVID-19. The best way to do that is by going to the CDC website. While the CDC does an excellent job of discusing the symptoms, understanding who needs to be tested and how to prevent spread, there is no information about physical activity with COVID-19. In fact, there is little information in the scientific literature on physical activity with COVID-19. 

A case report out of Taiwan describes a woman with COVID-19 who was able to participate in physical activity once her symptoms began to improve (2019 novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Taiwan: Reports of two cases from Wuhan, China, 2020. Huang, et al.). That is about as deep as the literature goes. Lets talk then about the importance then of reducing disease burden in physically active and young individuals.

For the vast majority of people who are able to participate in moderate to strenous physical activity, COVID-19 poses little to no risk of severe complications. These individuals have the pulmonary reserve to fight an insult of the magnitude that COVID-19 would deliver to the lungs. However, it remains important for these individuals to maintain social distancing. The reason for this is similar to herd immunity. Herd immunity is what makes it important to get vaccines. If enough people have immunizations to say, measles, than it becomes difficult for a measles outbreak to occur. This protects those individuals who have a compromised immune system and are unable to get the measles vaccine (MMR vaccine is a live-attenuated virus). The same concept applies here. Young or physically fit individuals are not at risk of complications from COVID-19, but reducing disease burden in this population is important for reducing disease transmission to people who are less capable of mounting a competent immune response.

Social distancing is one of the best ways to reduce disease transmission. Social distancing is when you limit your exposure to other individuals to reduce the possibility of disease transmission. This includes avoiding large events, limiting close interactions with others and practicing good hand hygeine.

Is it still possible to responsibly perform social distancing while maintaining an active lifestyle? The answer is yes. Most professional sports leagues and colleagiate teams are on a hiatus at the moment. Nonetheless, outdoor sports provide little chance of disease transmission among athletes. The outdoors limit disease transmission because the virus gets diluted in the outdoor air. Inside, the virus can become concentrated by one individual who has the virus. This is one of the reasons that influenza or flu season occurs in the winter while everyone is socializing indoors. If you are still concerned, individual outdoor activities such as walking, hiking, running or cycling can provide a great outlet to escape being cramped up in the house. Even individuals who test positive for COVID-19 and are under quarantine could manage to participate in these activities so long as they do not come near others. Backpacking provides a great way to remain physically active while minimizing social interactions with others. Going to the gym on the other hand may increase your risk of transmission. However, the gym is probably no worse than going to the grocery for example.

In summary, its important to practice social distancing to minimize disease spread to the most vulnerable individuals. However, while avoiding the gym could be sensible, now may be the time to go on that backpacking trip you have been planning.

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