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Covid cases are rising again, should you skip gym?

The new BA.5 variant of covid-19 is causing a renewed spike in infections in India.This is what you should do if you workout in gyms

Take precautions when working out at a gym.
Take precautions when working out at a gym. (Istockphoto)

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After two long years of the new normal of life in a pandemic, Indians are eager to move on and return to life as we knew it. The masks, hand hygiene and social distancing measures have all but disappeared, and exist only in advisories rather than in real life. But the BA.5 version of covid-19 is triggering a new wave across the world and India is not unaffected. 

In all probability, most of us have had at least one acquaintance from our immediate family or friends circle contract covid-19 in the recent past; this should serve as ample warning that the viral disease still poses a very real risk. According to the latest data from Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus tracker, India witnessed 548,580 cases of covid-19 and 1,255 deaths due to the disease in July 2022. That’s warning enough that covid-19 is not yet a thing of the past and we should accept the fact that we might have to live with it. 

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In many ways, this is similar to us living with viral fever, malaria and other such ailments despite having vaccines. However, if you have tested positive for covid-19, you could still infect others and could even cause yourself significant damage if you carry on as if nothing’s happened, especially if you are the active type. 

Outdoor exercises are always a better idea than indoors ones. By working out outdoors, you can also significantly reduce the chances of infection. There is more space, the air is clean, and the lower risk of contracting covid-19 brings mental relief, says Dr. Manoj Sharma, senior consultant for internal medicine at the Fortis Hospital in Vasant Kunj, Delhi. 

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“A closed environment like a gym is not suitable for working out during a spike in covid-19 cases as transmission becomes very easy because people tend to inhale and exhale with much more force while exercising. The spread of infection like covid-19 is a lot faster in (air-conditioned) gyms and fitness studios,” says Dr. Sushila Kataria, senior director of internal medicine at Medanta Hospital, Gurugram. Both doctors also recommend exercising outdoors because there are no other people in your immediate vicinity, and this lowers the chances of infection.

However, if you are the kind who cannot do without going to a gym, you need to take precautions. “Covid-19 has affected us and every place around us,” says Sharma, adding, “Gyms and yoga centres are open but many are still sceptical about hitting the facilities. We all are well aware of the precautions we should take but it is better to remember a few steps: Carry your own gym kit and avoid sharing anything personal. Using a mask during exercise will be difficult but you could refrain from using the gym when it is crowded, which makes maintaining social distance norms difficult.”

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Sharma also says that you must keep your sanitizer handy and wipe the common grip areas of equipment you use. Kataria suggests wearing a mask when working out in a packed gym, but advises that people be careful as working out while wearing a mask could become uncomfortable and lead to breathlessness in many people.  

Sharma also suggests that people carry their own towel or tissue paper to wipe the sweat off when they are exercising, and that people ought to set aside a dedicated pair of shoes for use in the gym. In case of any symptoms of covid-19 such as cold, cough and fever, both Sharma and Kataria urge people to be responsible and get tested. “If you are positive for covid-19, do not go to the gym,” says Kataria. 

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If you come down with covid-19, don’t fret. You should stay physically active while positive, says Sharma. “Standing up and walking whenever possible are important. Ideally, one should interrupt sitting or reclining every 30 minutes. Breathing exercises are highly recommended during covid-19 infection so that your mind and body are at peace,” he says. However, do not do any strenuous exercises. Kataria suggests those with covid should stop any activity that could lead to exertion. “Be gentle with yourself,” says Sharma. “Heavy exercises are not recommended as they put pressure on the lungs.”

Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and the co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.

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