Stay fit, not sick: Experts encourages gym-goers to flex their cleanliness

As the COVID-19 outbreak escalates, many gym rats are feeling torn between the desire to get fitter, and fears they’re putting themselves at risk of getting sick.

But an expert says workout junkies should be able to maintain their regimens so long as they exercise sensible precaution.

“People just need to be doing the things that they have to do to protect themselves from getting infections like you would any time of the year,” said Dr. Susy Hota, medical director of infection prevention and control at University Health Network.

“It’s always important to be washing your hands and cleaning off the surfaces of equipment.”

Hota said fitness centres can facilitate the spread of infection for the same reason many people find them motivating: they’re social environments.

While there’s no evidence to suggest the virus spreads through sweat, Hota said the communal use of equipment increases the risk of coming into contact with a contaminated surface.

She encouraged gym-goers to be vigilant about disinfecting dumbbells, treadmills and exercise machines before and after use, and avoid sharing towels, gear and personal-care products.

Other hygienic best practices still apply, she added, including washing your hands frequently and resisting the urge to wipe the sweat off your face.

She urged people who feel sick to skip their workout so they can focus on recuperating and prevent their fellow fitness enthusiasts from getting infected.

In the event of widespread community transmission, Hota said some Canadians may have to find at-home fitness arrangements in keeping with social distancing measures.

But until then, fitness centres can help prevent such a scenario by ensuring their facilities are up to sanitizing standards, Hota said.

As the outbreak has unfolded, Canadian gyms and studios have been assuring clients that they’re bulking up their cleaning protocols.

Goodlife Fitness has taken steps including using hospital-grade solutions to clean clubs daily and providing products to wipe down equipment at locations across the country, director of health and safety Brad Lindsay said in an email.

Other fitness brands including Equinox, SoulCycle and Barreworks have sent out email blasts about new sanitary measures and best practices for patrons.

Earlier this week, Yogaspace in downtown Toronto notified students that it was increasing the frequency of its cleaning services, advising instructors to stop offering hands-on assistance and pausing perks such as a complimentary tea service, mat rentals and sauna access.

Owner Kathryn Beet said she’s prepared to go even further if necessary, including limiting class sizes to maintain a six-foot distance between mats.

It may cost her some customers, but Beet said she’s willing to take the hit in the name of community safety.

“Some people are really thankful that we’re putting these measures into place. Other people are angry and think we’re overreacting,” Beet said. ”But right now, we feel it’s our responsibility to keep everybody safe when they’re in our space.”

Meanwhile, exercise buffs are trying to find a balance between building strength, and maintaining peace of mind.

Leona Chen in Sydney, Cape Breton, said she typically hits the gym four days a week, but has recently cut back.

To stay active, she’s been experimenting with workout apps and video games, including boxing, dancing and exercise routines. But she admitted these virtual workouts don’t pack the same punch.

“When you’re in the gym, everybody’s working out and you can see them, and you can feel that you have to keep up,” said Chen. “But when you’re at home, there’s no examples, or no inspiration.”

“We should do some online training together.”

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