If you’re a regular on London’s fitness scene, the chances are you’ve received several emails over the last few days from studios outlining updated health and safety guidelines following the outbreak of coronavirus, or COVID-19, in the UK.
Aussie gym chain F45 is now discouraging members from high-fiving after classes, and anyone that’s tried the cult workout will know that’s a post-training ritual.
F45 Stratford founder Sam Gregory says: “Basically we’re trying to minimise hand-to-hand contact so we have got rid of high fives temporarily, a little elbow pump will suffice for now. We also advise people to wash hands before, during and after workouts, if necessary.”
All of this begs the question: is it wise to be working out at all in a sweaty gym environment during the coronavirus outbreak?
For many of us, though, a time of crisis is when we need the exercise and camaraderie the most.
Dr Jenna Macciochi, an immunologist at the University of Sussex, says: “It is still safe to go to the gym but all the usual hygiene practices need to be followed vigilantly, especially cleaning down shared equipment. Gym goers should also remember that intense exercise without adequate recover can be immune suppressive leaving you open to infection.”
Dr Ed Wright, a senior lecturer in microbiology at the university, adds: “The important thing to emphasise is that this is a virus that we’re learning more and more about as the outbreak develops and cases increase.
“What we know so far is that it’s transmitted via droplets which are released when someone coughs or sneezes which can contaminate surfaces. When someone comes along and picks those up on their hands they won’t be infected at that point because the virus can’t pass through the skin, the skin is a great barrier to infection as long as there are no breaks in it, it’s when they start to touch their face and the virus gets close to their mouth, nose or eyes that it can get to the respiratory tract where it will start replicating.
“It’s therefore crucial to wash hands with soap before and after a gym class and avoid touching the face during,” he says, then “there are no extra risks than other day-to-day activities such as going shopping at the supermarket or working in the office.”
A number of gyms, like F45, have introduced extra precautionary measures in light of the coronavirus outbreak. “We are keeping on top of our strict cleaning regime and using anti-bacterial handwipes, we’re obviously advocating the whole idea that if you are sick please don’t come and workout,” says Gregory.
Meanwhile central London kickboxing studio Flykick has implemented deep cleaning of the studios, equipment and bags three times a day, while also providing antibacterial hand gel and spray for use on gloves pre- and post-class.
Sweat It founder Ben Paul, says that all high touch areas, like mats, treadmill screens, hand bars and side rails at the Aldwych-based studio are cleaned and disinfected. “We will now be sanitising all barbells, dumbbells and resistance bands at least twice day to ensure maximum protection and the team will be wiping down all high traffic touch points, surfaces and door handles throughout the studio every day. We have also temporarily removed any grooming products from the changing rooms that could pose a risk to contamination.”
The wiping down of equipment will “very much help decontaminate the risk” Dr Wright says, adding: “[Droplets that are] outside of a person anywhere from a few hours to a few days (depending on the surface) will inactivate naturally either through exposure to the environment from UV light or by starting to dry up, so through either cleaning or natural process there won’t be long-term implications or potential for infection.”
It’s also worth keeping distance between you and other gym-goers if they’re showing signs of illness, though admittedly this is easier said than done in many fitness studio scenarios.
“Droplets range in size, the larger size are generally thought to fall to the floor within a couple of metres of somebody so if you maintain that 2m perimeter from anyone that’s actively coughing and sneezing you’re going to mitigate the majority of the risk,” Dr Wright says. “There is a chance that some of the smaller particles may reside in air for a little bit longer, but it’s still unclear how much and what risk that poses.”