Exercise During the Coronavirus Outbreak

Working out is more important now than ever. Just not at the gym, please.

The coronavirus has changed daily life around the world in so many ways: the way we shop, the way we work, the way we socialize, and yes, the way we exercise. If you usually work out, or if you’re craving more activity now that the globe is on lockdown, you might be wondering, should I hit the gym during the coronavirus outbreak?

Well, no.

“People may spread this infection even if they have no symptoms whatsoever,” says Paul Pottinger, MD, professor of medicine in the Division of Allergy & Infectious Diseases at the University of Washington School of Medicine. “We need you to take the situation seriously to protect older people and people with reduced immune systems from severe illness or death.”

That means following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines and putting six feet of distance between you and other people.

Even if your gym is giant and empty (lucky), you should still consider freezing your membership for the time being.

“In many parts of the country, including where I live in Seattle, public health authorities already closed these businesses,” Dr. Pottinger said. He strongly suggests that you stay home if yours is open because there’s still the risk of touching equipment that hasn’t been properly disinfected after every use. “Any room you enter should be minimally populated, and you should have full control over the cleanliness of everything you touch.”

Still, your workout cravings are legit, and exercise is more important during this pandemic than ever, especially when it comes to reducing that funk so many of us are in right now.

“Physical activity improves mood and well-being and reduces stress and anxiety,” says Dori Rosenberg, PhD, affiliate associate professor at the University of Washington School of Public Health.

And yep, that includes the stress and anxiety associated with canceled flights, remote work, and the regular sight of masks that look like something out of Chernobyl circa 1986.

“You can also use exercise as a way to organize your day,” Rosenberg says. “Our daily lives can be more stressful when we don’t have a schedule, and exercise can be an anchor.”

The obvious follow-up question is, how do you exercise safely during a viral pandemic? Here’s what the experts had to say:

Go outside.

The outdoors are a solid option for three important reasons:

  1. It’s way easier to avoid people outside than, say, in the gym (see above).
  2. Open-air is your friend.
  3. Multiple studies show that nature reduces stress and anxiety, which you’re probably feeling in spades right about now. In fact, people experienced a drop in stress levels after spending just 20 minutes outside, according to a Frontiers in Psychology study.

Plus, “going outside gives you the opportunity to smile at your neighbors and wave — from a safe distance of course,” Rosenberg says. Just avoid outdoor places that tend to get crowded and that might not give you enough space to keep a safe distance from others.

Exercise online.

There are tons of free and affordable workouts you can follow along with from your living room — even more now that gyms are offering online workouts during the shutdown. A few favorites:

  1. Yoga: Over 6 million people strike a pose with Yoga With Adriene on YouTube.
  2. Strength-training: Our sister site Shape.com has a ton of bodyweight workouts you can do anywhere in the world, without any equipment.
  3. HIIT and boxing: Boxing gym EverybodyFights is now hosting workouts on Instagram daily (check out the schedule here), and Planet Fitness is doing the same on their YouTube channel.

Do a quick circuit.

Running and cycling are solid do-anywhere workout options, but if endurance cardio isn’t your thing, consider this full-body, no-equipment circuit that you can do right in your yard or living room, courtesy of Dan Roberts, CSCS, a celebrity trainer in London. “Do one round if you’re rusty and up to four rounds if you train regularly,” Roberts says.

  1. Air squat: Stand with feet hip-width apart, lower hips to floor, and return to standing, driving heels into floor. Do 1 set of 30 reps.
  2. Negative push-up: Start in a push-up position, knees on the floor if you need a modification. Lower chest until it touches the floor, then push up to starting position. Do 2 sets of 12 reps. 
  3. Alternating knee strike: Stand tall, feet shoulder-width apart. Drive left knee up and forward, leaning upper-body back about 45 degrees and driving from hips. Return to start and repeat with the other knee. Do 1 set of 50 reps.
  4. Rotating V sit: Sit on your tailbone with legs out in front of you, knees bent. Lift feet three inches off the floor, arms out in front as if you’re holding an imaginary football. Rotate your torso from side to side. Each 180-degree turn is a rep. Do 1 set of 20 reps.
  5. Standing broad jumps: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, knees bent. Jump forward, bending your knees to cushion your landing, ending in a deep squat position. Take a few steps back to the starting position and repeat. Do 1 set of 20 reps.