Infectious disease expert explains risk of gym workouts

Posted at 7:46 AM, Oct 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-23 08:19:02-04

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – Exercise is key to help prevent severe COVID-19 outcomes. Infectious disease experts have said outdoor workouts are safer so we’re not breathing in recycled air, but as we get closer to the winter months, more people are considering the gym. But is it safe to work out indoors?

An infectious disease expert from the University of Virginia said there is a risk, but keeping a mask on the entire time you’re inside the gym – even while you’re working out – can help mitigate the risk.

“It really is important to keep your mask on the entire time that you're working out,” said Dr. William Petri of UVA. “I know it's hard to do while exercising, but it's really essential in an indoor space like that because you're going to be exhaling both large and micro droplets. Everyone really does need to wear a mask indoors, because you're just putting other people at risk.”

Petri said wearing a mask while working out may be annoying, but it doesn’t put you at risk for any other health problems.

“I think the only problem is it's uncomfortable, having a mask on while you're running or exercising, but there there's no risk pertaining to carbon dioxide or any other sort of health consequences from it,” he said.

Petri stressed the importance of keeping a distance of at least six feet from other people, and he expressed caution about group workouts indoors.

“It's best to do solitary workouts,” Petri said. “I think the classes inside a closed space are going to be riskier than individually working out on an elliptical or a treadmill.”

Petri also warned against wearing masks with vents. While it protects the mask wearer and makes it easier for them to breathe, it spews unfiltered air, posing a danger to others.

“The vented masks though, are not safe for other people,” he explained. “They're not protecting other people, because there's unfiltered air that's going out through that vent.”

Petri also warned some groups of people should avoid the gym altogether.

“If you are 80 years old, you're 20 times more likely to have severe COVID-19 than if you're a 50-year-old,” Petri said. “So an 80-year-old should really think twice about going to a gym. And if you have an underlying medical condition like diabetes or heart or lung disease, that's another reason that maybe being in the gym is riskier than it is for a 20 to 50-year-old healthy person.”