Even if you're not much of a runner, cabin fever might have you craving some outdoor cardio. But is it safe to run outside during the COVID-19 pandemic?

By Arielle Tschinkel
March 17, 2020

Spring is nearly here, but with the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic at the top of everyone's minds, most people are practicing social distancing to help mitigate the spread of the virus. So, even though the warmer weather and longer daylight hours are calling, you're probably spending most of your time indoors these days—and, as a result, going a little stir-crazy.

Enter: home workouts. Of course, there are countless ways to exercise at home, even in the middle of a pandemic. But what if you want to take your workout outside to soak up some good ol' vitamin D? Is it safe to run outside during the coronavirus pandemic? Here's what you need to know.

Can I run outside during the coronavirus pandemic?

The short answer: yes—as long as you practice a few precautions (more on those in a bit).

To be clear, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) latest recommendation for people in the U.S. is to cancel or postpone all in-person events that include 50 or more people, at least for the next eight weeks. And when you do spend time around people in these smaller settings, the CDC suggests maintaining at least 6 feet of distance between yourself and others.

That said, the CDC doesn't have any specific guidelines for how to approach exercise—indoor or outdoor—during the coronavirus pandemic. But if you're itching to go for a run, jogging around the block rather than on the treadmill at your local gym (if your gym is even open still) is probably your safest bet right now, says Purvi Parikh, M.D., infectious disease doctor and allergist with Allergy & Asthma Network.

Running outside means you won't be inches away from a fellow gym-goer, nor will you be coming in contact with all the germy hot spots lurking in the average gym or fitness studio, explains Dr. Parikh. (BTW, the free weights in your gym have more bacteria than a toilet seat.)

The same goes for those who are immunocompromised, aka people who have a weakened immune system due to existing health conditions and/or certain immunosuppressive medication. Experts agree that as long as you feel well enough to do so, and you maintain the CDC-recommended distance between yourself and others, it's safe to go for a run outside during the coronavirus outbreak.

Having said that, if you're at all unsure about whether running outside is safe for you as an immunocompromised person, discuss it with your doctor first, says Valerie LeComte, D.O., an emergency medicine doctor in Colorado and Michigan.

How to Safely Run Outside During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Maintain your personal space. Aside from practicing the general 6-feet-of-distance rule, try to run in a spacious public park or on a public beach or boardwalk, if they're still open in your area, suggests Dr. Parikh. For city-dwellers jogging on sidewalks, she recommends running at "off" times to avoid crowds. "Off" times vary from city to city, but one survey shows that most people run either early in the morning (between about 6 and 9 a.m.) or in the evening (between roughly 5 and 8 p.m.), so a midday jog might be the best way to go.

Keep it clean. You already know to wash your hands as often as possible. But don't forget to wash or sanitize any equipment you might bring with you during your outdoor run or workout—weights, towels, resistance bands, your sweaty workout clothes, your water bottle, and even your phone, explains Dr. Parikh. Additionally, do your best to avoid public restrooms or other indoor facilities on your route; there's no guaranteeing the cleanliness of these types of areas, says LeComte. "Avoid touching surfaces that others have touched, like drinking fountains and park gates," adds Chirag Shah, M.D. a board-certified emergency medicine physician and co-founder of Push Health.

Listen to your body. "If you feel sick, you should skip workouts until you feel better, as stress on your body while sick [weakens] the immune system," explains Dr. Parikh. That goes for any illness or injury BTW, not just COVID-19, she notes. Point blank: Now is not the time to push through a workout if your body needs to rest and recover.

Consult your doctor about your workout. "All workouts should be cleared by your physician," especially new workouts in your routine, says Dr. Parikh. "If you are new to outdoor workouts, go slow," she adds, noting that temperature changes this time of year, on top of allergy season, can affect your breathing capacity, especially during a run. (Related: How to Get Back to Working Out When You Took a Break from the Gym)

Can my workout buddy join me for a run?

If you and a friend are feeling well, you might think there's no harm in teaming up for a jog or outdoor workout. Unfortunately, though, that's not the case. "At this time, we are discouraging group workouts," says Dr. Parikh. Social distancing is the safest way to protect yourself amid the coronavirus pandemic, even if by all accounts, you and your friend feel healthy, she adds.

Yes, that might seem extreme, but remember: Since anyone can be an asymptomatic carrier of the coronavirus, the most effective way to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 is to limit in-person social interactions as much as possible, explains Dr. Parikh.

If a solo run just isn't cutting it, Dr. Parikh suggests looking into virtual workouts as a way to spend time with a workout buddy and keep each other accountable while still keeping your distance. A few worth checking out: Strava is perhaps one of the most well-known community apps for runners and cyclists, offering friendly competition and plenty of routes, maps, and challenges to keep you moving. Adidas' Runtastic features a bunch of outdoor-based workouts, as well as a global community to connect with along the way. And the Nike Run Club app includes customized training plans, playlists, personalized coaching, and cheers along the way from fellow runners all trying to stay sane—and fit—in the midst of so much uncertainty.

The information in this story is accurate as of press time. As updates about coronavirus COVID-19 continue to evolve, it's possible that some information and recommendations in this story have changed since initial publication. We encourage you to check in regularly with resources such as the CDC, the WHO, and your local public health department for the most up-to-date data and recommendations.


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