At any pace, we know how running and walking make us feel good, keep us fit, and boost our immune systems, too. But with coronavirus numbers on the upswing and flu season upon us, are we doing ourselves any favors by staying active outdoors… or simply running into trouble?
That depends on “how” we’re running, and where, says Dr. Karan Shukla, a physician at Novant Health Randolph Family and Sports Medicine in Charlotte. The good news is we can, and should, keep running. A few small adjustments can make a big difference in whether we’re putting ourselves at risk. Dr. Shukla says the “3 W’s” – Wear a mask, Wait 6 feet apart, and Wash your hands — apply on your run or walk, too.
So start with keeping your distance. Running solo doesn’t indicate you’re a friendless loner. In fact, a little alone time can be good in some respects. It’s also probably the safest way to log those miles. If you choose to run with friends, keep the group small and keep the space between each other.
Next, wear a mask. It’s one more barrier between you and whomever else you encounter on the road, trail, or greenway. Since masks are now de rigueur and then some, it’s easy to find one that suits your level activity, fits comfortably, and still provides protection for you and those around you.
“Even if you’re on a trail with few others, if you can hear people huffing and puffing or smell their perfume, use a mask,” Dr. Shukla advises. “This can limit your risk of contracting an illness, or transmitting an illness asymptomatically.”
Saliva and mucus can spread the disease, says Dr. Shukla. Research is also looking into respiratory droplets or “aerosols” that can be spread by sneezing and coughing — and also by talking, singing, or breathing hard, like during exercise. There is some question about the relationship between how hard you breathe during exercise and how far you can expel the aerosols.
“You can transmit respiratory droplets and those are potential secretions that can be carrying contagions,” says Dr. Shukla. Conversely, others may expel droplets that are harmful to you, so wear a mask if your path is a busy one. A mask can also prevent you from touching your face, which is another way doctors warn that the disease is spread.
Bottom line on this whole droplet conversation? Limit the spitting and snot rockets, please.
“The combined effect can have a significant reduction on your ability to contract an illness,” says Dr. Shukla. If you’re on a trail where you see very few other people, he says, it’s easier to keep a safe distance and therefore a mask may not be necessary (but keep it handy).
Then there’s the 3rd W — the other consideration besides just a mask and distance. Proper hygiene begins before you even take your first step.
“Wash your hands before you leave home,” advises Dr. Shukla. “Bring hand sanitizer with you in case you touch anything.” And avoid touching things while you’re out. Like mom used to tell you, you don’t know where it’s been or who’s been touching it. That includes rails, benches, buttons, or door knobs; so do your dips and bench pushups before you leave or after you get home.
And when you’re all done?
“Remove clothing as soon as you get home, before you go inside,” says Dr. Shukla. “Don’t shake them out — put them in the wash directly.” Again, wash your hands as soon as possible. Don’t touch your face. And those shoes? Take them off at the door!
“I would strongly advise NOT wearing shoes in the home,” he adds, citing a common practice around the world that’s not shared in the U.S. “The bottoms of our shoes are pretty filthy in potential to transmit disease to surfaces in your home.”
The changes in our habits that we’re learning during COVID-19 are going to be long-term changes in our behavior which can help us stay healthy, says Dr. Shukla. Learning proper hand-washing (20 seconds with soap, get between those fingers!), hand sanitizing, keeping our germs to ourselves, and steering clear of things that can make us sick, are all positive steps to lifelong health.
“Your perspective should be what do we need to do in the next few months and years to keep good hygiene,” he says.
And remember that this, too, shall pass. Good hygiene habits, consistent exercise, and good nutrition will get us all there faster.