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How to keep safe when gyms and pools reopen

With outdoor pools now open and indoor gyms and swimming pools due to reopen on the 25th of July - many are wondering how to safely get back into the swing of gym life.

There’s no denying that COVID-19 (coronavirus) is still around and that the risk of catching and spreading the virus remains. But is it possible to exercise safely indoors and what can you do to minimise the risks?

How COVID-19 spreads

Before diving into pool and gym etiquette (pun very much intended), it is worth reminding ourselves how COVID-19 spreads between people.

From the research we have so far, we know that standing close to an infected person increases the risk of catching the virus. The virus is mostly transmitted through upper airway secretions. That’s the saliva and other secretions that we forcefully breathe, speak, shout, cough or sneeze out. COVID-19 may also spread when virus-filled droplets, released from the upper airway, land on a surface and are then picked up by someone's hand. If this person then touches their mouth/eyes or nose, the virus enters their body and causes them to become infected.

The problem with gyms, and why they’re relatively high risk environments when it comes to COVID-19 transmission, is that you’re often 1) standing close to others, 2) breathing heavily and 3) touching and sharing equipment used by others.

So, can you exercise safely at the gym?

From a medical perspective, we know the risks of transmission are lower outdoors, so outdoor or at-home exercise should take preference over communal indoor exercise at the moment. But outdoor exercise isn’t always practical or appropriate for everyone. Some people need help exercising or equipment that they don’t have at home.

If swimming is your passion or the spin bike clears your mind and makes you feel on top of the world - the goal becomes to minimise the risks, whilst also accepting it is impossible to reduce the risks completely.

Staying safe at the gym

The fitness sector is working really hard to make gyms and pools as safe as possible by following government guidance and keeping the health of their staff and members a top priority. But besides what your gym is already doing, here are a few things you can do.

1. Stay home if you’re unwell

It might sound like common sense but it’s becoming increasingly apparent that COVID-19 causes mild or even no symptoms at all in many people. So if you’re feeling a bit feverish, your sense of smell isn’t quite 100% or you’ve got an annoying dry cough - but otherwise you feel great and like you could still bench press - please don’t. Stay home and book a COVID-19 test.

2. Continue following public health advice

You know the drill. Wash your hands regularly and for 20 seconds, cough or sneeze into a tissue or your elbow, don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth and try to keep 2 metres apart whenever possible

3. Arrive ready to exercise, in your allotted time

Come dressed in your gym kit so that you don’t need to change once there. Many gyms will allot times and limit how long you can train to try and reduce the numbers of people coming in contact with one another and staff.

    4. Bring the bare minimum with you

    Lockers are likely to be out of bounds, so try not to bring anything with you except for a water bottle, phone and keys. It is also a good idea to bring hand sanitiser, although most venues will provide this.

    5. Follow your gym’s advice

    There will be signs and staff to guide you. Often there will be a one-way system in and out of rooms, spacing between equipment and limits to how many people can be in one area at a time. If you’re ever unsure, check with a staff member.

    6. Consider wearing a face mask

    Although there is no firm guidance right now about whether to wear a facemask in a gym or not, it is probably a good idea to have one with you. Medically speaking, wearing a mask when doing light exercise is unlikely to do you any harm. But if you’re doing exercise that causes you to breathe heavily - it might not be possible whilst wearing a mask. Also don’t forget that a wet or damp face mask is not as effective as a dry one. So bring spare masks if you’re going to be getting sweaty.

    The World Health Organization recommends that people don't wear face masks when exercising because sweat makes the mask wet (and it doesn't work properly when wet) plus it can make breathing difficult in some cases. If you choose to wear a mask and are comfortable doing so, it is important not to keep touching it and taking it on and off. If you're going to keep touching it/removing it - you're better off not wearing one and being careful to socially distance.

    7. Clean everything before and after use

    Most gyms will provide cleaning supplies for you to use but if not - take some disinfectant with you and wipe everything down before and after you use it.

    8. Wash your kit when you get home

      When you get home, put everything you wore into the washing machine. Or if you don’t have a washing machine, tie them in a bag and take them to a laundrette 3 days later.

      Staying safe at the swimming pool

      The World Health Organization have said that swimming in well-maintained and appropriately chlorinated swimming pools is safe1. It is unlikely that COVID-19 can spread in swimming pool water and according to The Pool Water Treatment Advisory Group (PWTAG), the available research shows that a combination of water, chlorine and pH level could inactivate the COVID-19 virus within 15-30 seconds2.

      That being said, even if the risks whilst in the pool are low, transmission is still possible before and after getting into the water or if you swim very close to others. So it is worth considering the following few things you can do to minimise the risk.

      1. Arrive with your swimsuit already on

        The less time you can spend in a communal changing room, the better.

        2. Follow the new pool guidance

          There are likely to be a few new rules, such as how many people can be in a lane at one time, if you can overtake other swimmers or not, which way to get into the pool and which way to get out etc

          3. Shower and change quickly at the end

            Whereas the changing room used to be a good place for a chat or somewhere to get ready to go to work or out after, it is best to keep your time there as short as possible. Consider building time in so that you can head home first before then going out for the day.

            For more information on COVID-19, visit our Coronavirus Guide.

            References

            1.WHO. Fact or Fiction. https://www.who.int/southeastasia/outbreaks-and-emergencies/novel-coronavirus-2019/fact-or-fiction [accessed 20/7/20]

            2. PWTAG. Swimming pool technical operation after Covid-19 shutdown https://www.pwtag.org/swimming-pool-technical-operation-after-covid-19-shutdown/ [accessed 20/7/20]