This was going to be the month. In January, you vowed to get back to the gym.
Then Austin reached COVID-19 Stage 5 on January 6 because of the omicron variant. Austin Public Health encouraged unvaccinated people or vaccinated people at high risk of serious illness to avoid all public gatherings and places. Fully vaccinated people at low risk of serious illness have been encouraged to wear masks everywhere.
Could you really go back to the gym?
There are ways to participate in group exercise activities or return to the gym. It starts with knowledge.
Understanding Step 5:Austin returns to stage 5 of the COVID guidelines. What will change for you?
Ask what precautions your gym takes. Did they add air filtration systems? Have they reinforced their cleaning protocols? Do they require masking? What about social distancing?
“Each gym takes its own personal approach, explains Dr. Suneet Singh, medical director of the CareHive Health practice. Unlike the early days of the pandemic, when there were state requirements, there are no COVID-19 specific restrictions or guidelines required of gyms beyond the standard health safety guidelines at this time.
Most gyms are supportive but do not require masking and social distancing. Some reduced class capacities during Stage 5 or placed stickers or tape 6 feet apart on the floor to help people socially distance. Many also require staff to wear masks.
They also have more cleaning supplies available and are encouraging people to wipe down machines after use or even walk behind customers to wipe down surfaces.
The risk of COVID-19 is not high on surfaces. Instead, it’s the virus in the air when we breathe in and out or cough or sneeze.
Weighing the Benefits of Exercise
Singh sees the health benefits of exercise, especially when it comes to fighting this virus. “A healthy immune system will be our best defense against any disease,” he says, and exercise helps boost the immune system.
It also recognizes the improved mental health that exercise provides. “When we take away the gym, we add to mental health issues,” he says.
People appreciate the emotional support and mental health benefits that come from belonging to a community, says Sean Doles, vice president of mission advancement for the YMCA of Austin. “They weigh the risks associated with omicron against the benefits and values,” he says.
The YMCA of Austin is seeing twice as many visits and new members this month as it did last January, though it wasn’t at 2020 levels before the pandemic hit, Doles says. “We’re two-thirds of where we’d be on a ‘normal’ year,” he says for new members joining and 60% of a normal year for visits.
Exercise with COVID-19 safety in mind
Singh, who goes to the gym regularly, encourages these precautions:
Get vaccinated and boosted. This is the best precaution against serious illnesses.
Skip the gym if you’re not feeling well. Even if you think it’s just allergies, wait until the symptoms go away or you can get a COVID-19 test.
Wear an N95 or KN95 mask during training. N95 masks in particular are the ones doctors use when treating COVID-19 patients, Singh says. They’ll protect you from breathing in COVID-19, he says, even if you’re in a room with no one else wearing a mask.
Understanding Masks:N95, KN95, KF94, Surgical: Know the types of masks and why cloth masks came out for omicron
It is not dangerous to train while wearing these masks, he says. The only risk would be theoretical: you could inhale the fibers of the mask and have an asthma attack. “It’s not something you see very often at all,” he says. “It is prudent to wear a mask when performing any exercise.”
If you’re wearing a mask, you probably won’t be the only one.
Rachel Quattrocchi, general manager of Pure Barre Southwest Austin, says her location recommends wearing masks, especially in high-traffic areas, and that about 20-30% of members now wear masks for the duration of the event. ‘coaching. Some people started wearing them again once we hit stage 5; some people have worn them everywhere.
“Most of our members don’t care one way or another,” she says. “Training for the body is connected to the mind. We want everyone to feel safe, protected and supported.”
Wipe surfaces before and after using equipment. Although the risk is not for COVID-19, there is a risk of other diseases that live longer on surfaces. Besides, it’s the polite thing to do.
Use hydroalcoholic gel. By now we’ve learned that we shouldn’t touch our faces, but we just can’t help it. Hand sanitizer helps us and people close to us who might touch what we touched.
Use a towel to wipe away sweat your face and body instead of your hand.
Social distancing at least 6 feet from people. If people are breathing heavily, you’ll want to increase this distance because they might expel more virus particles by breathing harder. If you use fitness equipment or weights, try to leave the equipment between you and the next person.
Know the crowd conditions before you go. Some gyms like Austin’s Planet Fitness display in an app or on their website how many people are currently in that location. You can also call ahead and ask. Before and after work tend to be busier times that you may want to avoid. Also try to avoid overcrowded classes.
Choose outdoor activities or spaces if possible. The YMCA, for example, has set up outdoor classrooms. Some training camps only take place outdoors. You can also do your own biking, hiking, running or walking outside. Continue to wear a mask or have one handy in case you cannot socially distance in an outdoor class or on the trail.
Choose water activities. Chlorine inactivates the virus, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take precautions. Social distancing while doing water aerobics or swimming in the lanes. Do not wear a mask while in the water, but do wear one when exiting the water. Choose an outdoor pool rather than an indoor one, if possible.
Take online classes or make exercise videos or apps. The YMCA of Austin continues to offer optional online classes. “Our new reality is this mix,” says Doles, of online and in-person classes. Some people really feel more comfortable staying at home, but for others they need to be in person.
Doles says he’s seen the comfort of returning to the YMCA increase over time. “People have a different attitude now,” he says. “There’s not as much fear, and they really see the value in what a place like the Y can be.”