A person runs outside wearing athletic clothing and tennis shoes.
Given the current guidelines on COVID-19—which recommend a minimum distance of 6 feet from person to person—exercising alone outside is optimal. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

With all the info you’ve read on the topic of COVID-19, here’s a one-question quiz: What’s one activity where you can avoid crowds, manage your stress and boost your immunity?

Answer: Running.

“Exercise is part of maintaining a healthy immune system and decreasing stress levels—especially amid the current pandemic with COVID-19,” said Jason Lazor, DO, a specialist in non-operative sports medicine with Spectrum Health Medical Group Sports Medicine program.

Running is also a great way to avoid the crowds, Dr. Lazor said.

If you can find a way to do it outdoors, all the better as fitness centers closed amid concerns about exposure risks.

COVID-19 spreads from person to person in close contact—within about 6 feet—by respiratory droplets produced when an infected person sneezes or coughs.

“This is an important concept to understand when it comes to staying safe while exercising indoors or outdoors,” Dr. Lazor said.

Want to stay safe and healthy while minimizing disruption of your exercise routine?

Here are Dr. Lazor’s top recommendations:

Wash your hands

You’ve heard it many times during the COVID-19 outbreak, but the truth is you can’t hear it enough: Wash your hands.

“With soap and water, for at least 20 seconds,” Dr. Lazor said. “Especially after you have been in a public place, or after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing.”

If you don’t have immediate access to soap and water, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.

“Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands,” Dr. Lazor said. “Use a towel or cloth to wipe off your head and face.”

Cover coughs and sneezes

Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or use the inside of your elbow. Immediately wash your hands afterwards.

If you’re sick, stay home

Stay at home and contact your doctor if you’re having any symptoms such as fever, cough or shortness of breath.

Manage races, group runs

It’s safe to run outside, but anytime people come together there’s an increased risk of disease spread, Dr. Lazor said.

“If you’re part of a group training run—spread out, avoid any unnecessary hand touching and avoid high-touch areas like traffic buttons,” he said.

Be mindful of your interactions with others and practice good hygiene.

“Avoid spitting and snot rockets, as these contain respiratory secretions that can transmit diseases,” he said.

Keep to physicial distancing requirements, and wear a mask while running together or in heavily trafficked areas. The virus survives up to three hours in the air, and those heavily exerting themselves push out a lot of air.

Listen to your body

Running can benefit the immune system, but it’s best to avoid long or intense runs or any types of extreme exercise.

“This can be counterproductive to your immune system,” Dr. Lazor said.

And if you’re sick, don’t attempt to exercise.

“It will not sweat out of your system or help your body fight the infection,” he said.

It’s better to contact your primary care provider, to see what’s going on.

“If you are quarantined, you can use an at-home treadmill, or utilize the time to cross train with body weight exercises focusing on core-hip strength,” he said.

There are also lots of YouTube exercise videos available to keep you moving indoors.

Be cautious around others

If you can, exercise at home or outside alone. If you do decide to exercise with others, take careful steps to ensure the safety of all involved.

Dr. Lazor recommends the following:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Put distance between yourself and others.
  • Avoid peak hours when there will be lots of others around. You want to maintain a minimum of 6 feet of distance between people.
  • Use DVDs, streaming channels or apps to participate in group fitness at home.