Are Group Exercise Classes Safe at Gyms Amid Coronavirus?

June 10, 2020

    As most Americans have spent the last three months in quarantine, many had to alter workout regimens while hunkering down at home.

    As gyms begin to reopen amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, many are wondering if it is safe to take a group exercise class?

    Researchers in South Korea have found that workouts in a group setting in a small space could increase the risk of infection, reported "Today."

    According to a research letter published in Emerging Infectious Diseases medical journal, 112 coronavirus cases were linked back to fitness classes at 12 different gyms.

    “Avoiding intense exercise in confined space is crucial,” Dr. Ji-Young Rhee, the co-author and an associate professor of infectious diseases at Dankook University College of Medicine in South Korea, said.

    The amount of people in the class, the size of the space and the intensity of the workouts were key factors in the spread of the novel virus, the researchers disclosed. The study found infections occured in classes with 5-22 people that lasted 50 minutes in a space that measured about 645 square feet.

    On a positive note, classes with less than five participants, or from less intense regimens such as Pilates or yoga, saw no COVID-19 transmission.

    According to the study, intense exercise is described as activities which induced "deep breathing and hyperventilation."

    Dr. Lou Ann Bruno-Murtha, division chief of infectious diseases at Cambridge Health Alliance in Cambridge, Massachusetts, explained how the findings of the study were not surprising as heavy breathing is more likely to cause someone to release respiratory droplets from their nose or mouth.

    Experts have said one of the main ways coronavirus spreads is through droplets, which can be released when someone sneezes or coughs.

    Bruno-Murtha added that gym classes were ripe for transmission as people are usually close together indoors and not wearing masks, as they are difficult to tolerate when doing an intense workout.

    “Exercising outdoors is far safer than indoors,” Bruno-Murtha added.

    The doctor shared that she would be hesitant to join a group fitness class unless there were only a few people and eveyone remained at least six feet apart. Bruno-Martha also cautioned to double that distance should the workout involve heavy breathing.

    “Fortunately, it’s summer now and I would encourage people to seek opportunities for exercise outdoors,” Bruno-Murtha said. “Until this virus is much better controlled, I would try to avoid crowded fitness classes.”

    For those that are determined to return to their group classes, experts advise to wear a mask, avoid crowded classes, social distance and find out if the indoor space has proper ventilation with fresh air or via the use of HEPA filtration.

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