Here’s What You Need to Know About Running Safely During COVID-19

Lacing up your running shoes and heading outside for a jog is a great way to manage the stress of everything happening in the world right now (hello, endorphins!). However, like everything else, running isn’t what it used to be. If you want to run outdoors in the midst of COVID-19, there are certain recommended precautions you can take to protect yourself and others. In other words, if you’re going to run, you need to run safely. So, how exactly do you do that? Let’s dive into a few must-know tips:

Practice (extra) social distancing

Social distancing is one of the biggest defenses we have against the spread of COVID-19. And while you’re probably familiar with the standard six-foot recommendation, when you’re running, you should probably keep an even greater distance from other people.

New research outlined in the New York Times found that runners (and brisk walkers) may leave a trail of air in their wake that could carry respiratory droplets 15 feet or more—potentially increasing the distance over which the virus could be transmitted.

This research has yet to be peer-reviewed, meaning that results need further study and confirmation. But in the current climate, it’s better to be safe than sorry—so, when you’re running, practice extra social distancing and plan to stay at least 15 feet away from other people.

“Staying greater than six feet apart and avoiding exercising behind an individual are all probably good habits and ways to reduce potential exposure to COVID-19,” says Dr. Alex McDonald, a practicing family physician in San Bernardino, CA, who specializes in sports medicine.

Don’t touch anything

On a typical run, there are plenty of things you might touch. For example, you might hit the button at a crosswalk to cross the street or lean on a park bench to re-tie your shoes. But on a run these days, your new rule of thumb? Try your best to keep your hands to yourself.

Depending on the material, COVID-19 can live on surfaces anywhere between a few hours and a few days. So, if someone with the virus touched that crosswalk button or park bench a few hours (or even a few days) before you, you could be exposing yourself to the virus.

When you’re out on a run, avoid touching things; the fewer things you touch, the less potential you have to pick up the virus off a surface.

Wear a mask when running in public

The CDC has recommended that people wear masks in public places—and for good reason. “The primary purpose of a mask is to prevent the mask wearer from spreading respiratory droplets,” says Andrew Roszak, executive director for the Institute for Childhood Preparedness, who has over 20 years of experience working in emergency preparedness at the local, regional, state, and federal level. “Droplets occur when you cough, sneeze, or even speak. The intent of the mask is to keep these droplets from spreading in the air by keeping them close to your body.”

Wearing a mask is always important—but it’s especially important when you’re running. “When you exercise, there is increased viral shedding due to labored and deeper breathing,” says McDonald. “A mask may help reduce the spread or reach of those viral particles.”

It might take some time to get used to running with a mask. Start with shorter, easier runs until the mask becomes more tolerable.“Some people simply are not comfortable wearing a mask while exercising,” says McDonald. “However, there are a few ways to make this more comfortable. I recommend a lower level of exertion and lighter exercise while wearing a mask…[then, over time] gradually increase time and exertion level.” 

Choose secluded running routes

If you don’t want to wear a mask while you run, there is a way to get around it. If you jog in secluded areas where you’re unlikely to run into other people, wearing a mask isn’t as important as it would be if you were running, say, down a busy street in the middle of your city.

“The primary purpose of a mask is to prevent the mask wearer from potentially spreading the virus to others,” says Roszak. “If you’re exercising outside alone, then there is no reason to wear a mask, as there are no other individuals around.”

If you’re running in an area where you’re alone and aren’t exposed to other people, you don’t necessarily have to wear a mask while you run. (You should, however, always have a mask with you; that way, if you run into other people on your route, you can slip it on mid-run.)

Leave your shoes at the door

You need your running shoes to go on a run. But once that run is over, consider planning to leave your shoes at the door. A recent study found that COVID-19 can be carried on shoes—but that doesn’t mean they’re a common source of infection. So, if you want to play it safe after a run, take off your shoes before you enter your home; that way, there’s less likelihood that you’ll track the virus into your house through the soles of your sneakers. And after you take off your shoes, make sure to wash your hands!

Skip the run if you’re feeling under the weather

Running can be a great way to stay healthy, happy, and sane during these challenging times But if you’re feeling under the weather, it’s best to skip the run, stay home, and rest.

This is especially important if you’re experiencing more severe flu-like symptoms. “If symptoms are below the neck—[like] fevers, body aches, deep cough, or shortness of breath—I recommend no exercise at all,” says McDonald.

Not feeling well? Fitbit users in the US can get the care they need while staying safe at home by booking a virtual doctor’s visit with the PlushCare team directly from the Fitbit app. Learn more about what’s available in our new COVID-19 resource tab here

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