Published on Jun 24, 2020

  • A recent survey reveals most people gained about 10 pounds during the spring quarantine. 
  • When headed to the gym, the president of the American Council of Exercise recommends avoiding enclosed rooms, like a cycling studio, where germs more easily spread. 
  • Choose a gym that has safety measures in place, including temperature checks, one-way traffic flow, sanitizer stations, increased equipment cleaning, and changes that allow for social distancing. 
  • Face coverings should be worn whenever there's a chance for in-person contact but may make it difficult to reach the exercise intensity you once could.  

Video Transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING] JOHN WHYTE: Hi, everyone. You're watching Coronavirus in Context. I'm Dr. John Whyte, chief medical officer at WebMD.

You know, we did a survey a few weeks ago at WebMD where we asked people if they were gaining weight during the pandemic. And not surprisingly, most people are, typically about nine or 10 pounds. And now that we have reopening, when is it safe to go back to the gym? What type of exercise should we be doing?

So to answer some of the questions that I know are on your mind, I've asked Dr. Cedric Bryant to join me. He is the president and chief science officer of the American Council on Exercise. Dr. Bryant, thanks for joining me.

CEDRIC BRYANT: Thanks for having me, John.

JOHN WHYTE: Now, I have to start off with, what-- what are all those trophies that you have behind you?

CEDRIC BRYANT: Well, one of my passions is, uh, youth sports coaching. And so, uh, those are some of the trophies, uh, over the years.

JOHN WHYTE: Well, as we talk about sports and we talk about activities, you know, folks want to know, what's safe and what's not. Can you give us a sense of what activities, um, that you would kind of rank that, you know, might have less risk than others?

CEDRIC BRYANT: As it relates to-- to coronavirus and the pandemic, um, uh, wor-- working out or exercising at home, whether that's, um, using home gym equipment that you have or using, um, online workouts and resources, would be the safest.

Next on my list would probably be working outdoors, um, provided that you are able to adhere to all of the appropriate social distancing, um, kind of measures and recommendations that are out there. Then probably next on the list is-- would be probably working out in a, um, a studio type environment where you might be the only, um, client that's there with the trainer. Or there might be just a very limited number, so that you can very easily maintain social distancing.

And then probably, the-- the last thing on the list would be kind of working in that kind of larger club environment, where there are going to be other patrons, um, in larger numbers that will be exercising at the same time that you are.

JOHN WHYTE: Yeah. Now, what about, like, jogging or running? You mentioned activities outside.


JOHN WHYTE: Is there a difference in terms of risk--


JOHN WHYTE: --in terms of, you know, what you'd recommend people do, you know, pre-COVID?

CEDRIC BRYANT: Well, I would say, you know, as-- as with-- with any recommendation as it relates to physical activities, is make sure that you're engaging in things that you find enjoyable, because you're more likely to do those and have a positive experience. But just, you know, ad-- adhere to some of the, uh, you know, precautions that are in place in terms of, um, maintaining, you know, appropriate distance.

And as the intensity of the activity increases, you probably should, uh, allow for more physical distancing to occur, because while there haven't been studies that have been able to kind of document how far the respiratory droplets could disperse, um, with different activities, there has been some modeling that's occurred.

And it would suggest that, uh, you know, walking compared to running compared to cycling, you need to afford yourself, you know, greater amounts of distance, because there's-- there's the ability to-- to, uh, have those droplets travel further with-- with those types of activities. So I think just being-- being aware and intentional of maintaining that social distancing. The other thing, too, is that if you find yourself exercising outdoors and it's reasonably crowded, um, to also make sure that you are wearing face covering.

Um, now, there is a downside to the face covering in that, because the face covering adds some resistance to, um, to breathing, it's going to make the exercise a bit more uncomfortable and unpleasant. So you're probably not going to be able to exercise at the intensities that you're accustomed to.

And I-- and I can tell you from personal experience, um, kind of doing some-- some trail running and hiking is that, um, when doing the really hilly, challenging portions while wearing face covering, um, does make the exercise, I'd say, about at least, uh, perceptually about a level, um, more challenging than without the face coverings.

JOHN WHYTE: But if you're practicing social distancing while you're on that trail and you're having minimal contact, you really don't need to wear that mask and face shield, right?

CEDRIC BRYANT: I-- I would agree with that, John. Yes.

JOHN WHYTE: Enforcing the law. Right. Yeah.


JOHN WHYTE: Now, what about-- a lot of people want to know about sweat. Um, correct me if I'm wrong. There's no data that sweat itself causes coronavirus. It's the respiratory droplets that you refer to that are falling on surfaces that-- that may not be adequately cleaned. Is that right?

CEDRIC BRYANT: That is absolutely correct, John, that-- that the-- the sweating i-is not the concern. It's the-- it's the-- the-- the breathing and-- and the respiratory droplets that are associated with the breathing. And even for that matter, um, the-- you know, the surface areas, um, tend not to be the greatest-- your greatest risk is your other-- your other, um, gym members who are-- who are exercising with you.

JOHN WHYTE: Well, let's be realistic, Dr. Bryant. There is a gym culture. You know, some folks want to go to the gym. They don't have the ability to do it at home for a variety of reasons-- maybe space or children, what have you. Some folks may not like doing, you know, um, online activities. So folks are really wondering, how safe is it to go to a gym.

CEDRIC BRYANT: Well, um, it really depends upon, um, just the procedures, um, that the gym has in place to try to afford its members the most protection. And I would say that, um, many of things that we talked about earlier, in terms of social distancing-- so making sure that the equipment is spread such that they're able to ensure that that distance is there-- that the gym is well-marked to really try to give people definite, um, guidance in terms of what is appropriate distance, to make sure that the gym is well-ventilated.

One of the things that we know is that that's one of the beauties and benefits of exercising outdoors. And so, you know, ha-- having-- having the doors open, windows open, and-- and really trying to encourage airflow. Um, and it even starts before then in terms of the gym can control the number of members who are there at any given time.

So a lot of gyms are using online scheduling to limit and control the-- the-- the traffic flow, which is also a very, you know, important part. Making sure-- also make sure that the gym is adhering to good cleaning and disinfecting, um, you know, protocols. Uh, so there are a number of things that-- that that can be done to kind of mitigate the risk, if you will.

JOHN WHYTE: A lot of gyms don't have windows. So how does that come into your decision making as to whether or not you should go?

CEDRIC BRYANT: Well, I-- I think the-- the most important thing is the spacing, because as I said, your greatest risk are the other patrons, as well as the other, uh, folks who are working at the gym. So ensure that they're adhering to that. Also making sure that they're-- they're doing-- uh, being proactive in terms of prescreening folks, making sure that individuals who are ill or may have temperatures aren't-- aren't allowed to-- to come to the gym to work out during those days, making sure that, um, when you are working out that you're not in an enclosed area within a gym, like-- like, uh, studio cycling where you'll-- you'll be in an enclosed room and-- and individuals are exercising at a high intensity. So their ventilation rates are going to be higher. That would be one of the activities, personally, that I would avoid at the gym right now.

JOHN WHYTE: 'Cause you don't want to be too close to someone that might be, you know, putting out respiratory droplets. Because to your point, it would be very hard to wear a mask or a facial covering while you're on, you know, a stationary bike or something.

The CDC put out some guidelines, which I know you're familiar with, but I want to ask you about some of them. Because it's easy not to shake hands and give high fives. So they do say that. Don't do that. We-- we don't have to do that. But what about when it says, ens-- ensure equipment is clean and disinfected? What-- what should you be asking the gym? You reference that, too.

It's hard to-- it's hard for me to judge to say, well, if the gym says they wipe it down in the morning and the evening, you know, is that enough. Is there something that's being done after each piece of equipment? So it's-- it's easy to say, let's ask them about, you know, what they're doing, but I don't know what the right answer is. Do you have any suggestions?

CEDRIC BRYANT: Sure. That-- that-- that's a-- that's a great point, John. And some of the clubs that have reopened and-- and-- and some of those who I would say are-- are, um, practicing, you know, kind of better methods, what they'll-- what they do is they actually have a period of time between-- um, it's almost like they run sessions where they allow people to schedule, come in as a group. And that group has a limited time to get their workouts in, and then they leave. And before the next group comes in, they have a scheduled cleanup time where they're able to clean and disinfect all of the equipment before the next session flows in.

And that-- that's the ideal way. And so that's why I would ask my, uh, gym operator in terms of what are his or her kind of-- kind of cleaning protocols. And also make sure that there are readily available disinfectant wipes and so forth and that there's signage that encourages people to write down the equipment, um, you know, after use and before use, and so that you can kind of assume some of the responsibility yourself as well.

JOHN WHYTE: Dr. Bryant, I want to thank you for taking time today and sharing your insights.

CEDRIC BRYANT: Well, thank you for having me, John. And-- and-- and thank you for discussing this very, uh, important topic.

JOHN WHYTE: And thank you for watching Coronavirus in Context.