You can listen on your favorite podcast app or read the transcript below.
Radford Slough, Urban Body Fitness: Welcome to Urban Body Fitness. You come in the entrance-only door and look what it says: Urban Body Fitness is doing what we can to give you a safe place to work out.
Wash your hands, please put your used hand towel at the front desk.
Dr. Sanjay Gupta: What you’re hearing is a tour of Urban Body Fitness. It’s a gym in Atlanta that reopened its doors in May. And you’re also hearing the new policies they now have in place.
Slough: You’ll have to sign your Covid-19 waiver. You’re gonna grab a towel right there and you’re going to wait. And the staff will unlock this little gate.
Gupta: As of today, most states have partially reopened or have eased stay-at-home restrictions. For some, gyms are part of this first phase of reopening.
I like to work out — I do it every day. But a lot of people are concerned about going back to their local gym because we’re in the middle of a pandemic.
Gyms in particular can pose a high risk for spreading the virus — they are usually packed with people. You need to share equipment. And let’s be honest, physical distancing can be a real challenge there.
So in this episode, we’re gonna hear from epidemiologist Saskia Popescu about the risks of going to the gym. What are they?
We’re also gonna talk to the owner of Urban Body Fitness, Radford Slough, on what exactly to expect if you do decide to go.
And if you’re not ready yet, we’re also gonna talk about how to stay physically fit from home. That’s crucial.
Saskia Popescu, HonorHealth senior infection preventionist: So I think there are ways to keep yourself safe, but you need to do some homework. You need to be mindful that this is an increased risk task.
Gupta: We had the chance to sit down with Saskia Popescu, who’s a senior infection prevention epidemiologist with the HonorHealth hospital system. She lives in Arizona, where gyms are part of the first phase of reopening. We wanted to know — how does she feel about that?
Popescu: I’m very conflicted by it, mostly because I think, as we’ve all seen, there’s a lot of states that are opening prematurely. And I think that gives a lot of concern for me and to a lot of people in public health and health care, simply because most people want to get back to their normal lives.
Popescu: I also think of gyms as having so many high-touch surfaces and equipment, and that is so challenging to keep clean. But also, you have to really rely on customers and business owners to be doing things not only right, but consistently. And there’s a lot of room for mistakes.
Gupta: Saskia used to go to a small local gym. It’s closed now, but if it were to reopen this week, would she go?
Popescu: I don’t see Arizona’s numbers consistently down trending, so I personally would not be doing that simply because I don’t see the data to support it, and I’m not going to contribute to that risk.
That being said, I’ve really encouraged you know, friends who have gyms and things like that, how to go about it safely.
Gupta: Saskia says that if your state still has stay-at-home orders in place, any unnecessary contact is going to increase the risk of getting the virus.
But if your local gym is reopening and you want to go, Saskia does have some recommendations.
Popescu: I encourage people to do a couple of things. The first is look at your state and local health department and see what the data is showing in terms of Covid-19 cases.
If you’re still seeing a lot of spikes, some roller coasters in numbers, and not that steady decline over a couple of weeks, maybe give it a second guess, maybe try and stay home. So do your homework, and then talk to your gym and ask what they’re doing to keep you safe.
Gupta: Here’s the thing, there’s so much going that we’ve never had to think about before. And Saskia thinks that things can be done safely, but that it’s very dependent on what businesses do to counter the risk of infection.
Here’s some of her advice for gym owners — and what you should be looking out for when you go to the gym, as well.
Popescu: So a lot of that is really that environmental disinfection and cleaning and making sure you have really stringent policies in place to get it done. It’s going to require more people and more time.
Because you absolutely need to be cleaning that equipment between use.
So what I encourage people to do is before you invest in a disinfection product, go onto the EPA’s website and make sure that it is under the list N, meaning it would be effective against SARS-CoV-2. That’s a huge piece.
Maybe doing a prescreening of staff before shift and even, you know, guests coming in.
Gloves are another question. I think unfortunately, I see gloves misused too frequently. I see people wearing the same pair of gloves all day. I would rather you not wear gloves unless you are super aware of how frequently you have to change them.
And I’d rather you just wash your hands or use hand sanitizer.
Gupta: And one more concern — masks. We wear them outside, but should people wear masks when working out?
Popescu: I don’t necessarily encourage people to wear masks when they’re working out because it can cause breathing issues.
I mean, there are respiratory concerns for people wearing them while jogging and things like that. So, you know, wearing a mask when you enter the gym and when you’re in the locker room, that’s helpful.
Gupta: With masks, people need to think about their own comfort level and also the intensity of their workout.
So those are some of the risks and recommendations. But what does the new normal actually look like when a gym does reopen?
Slough: You come in the door. Yes, that’s equipment being set aside to be cleaned. Wash your hands this way. And you walk in.
Gupta: We spoke with Radford Slough, owner of Urban Body Fitness in downtown Atlanta.
Slough: So we’re trying to be open, but as safely as we possibly can. So for both our staff and for our members, because — two-sided street there, and I certainly don’t want to be known as the place to go get sick.
So when you walk in our front door, the first thing you do is you go wash your hands.
We have forehead thermometers, so non-touch. So we take your temperature.
Then we’re eliminating the people that are in denial about being sick because we’re doing a strict 98.6. And if you blow your 98.6, you’re in a four-week ban right off the bat. We won’t let you in for four weeks.
Gupta: It’s strict. Of course, there’s a lot of people who have no symptoms and still carry the virus. But if your temperature does check out, you can go into the gym. According to Radford, each person is then given a Lysol spray bottle.
Slough: And you’re to clean when you pick it up and clean when you put it down, as far as pieces of equipment. And once you’ve done your whole workout, you bring that spray bottle back. We clean the cleaning bottle before we give it out to somebody else. So we actually Lysol the Lysol bottle.
Gupta: The gym is also only allowing 30 people at a time, and they’re not doing any group classes for now.
It’s important to point out these policies are for Radford Slough’s gym — your gym may be different. Some gyms, for example, are requiring members to make reservations ahead of time.
How your own gym is reopening depends a lot on your state’s guidelines, as well as the gym’s own policies. This is something you should probably take a few minutes to look up.
The decision to go back to the gym is up to you. And truth is, a lot of life is a risk-reward proposition. So do your homework, listen to your local health officials, look at your state’s Covid-19 cases, see what direction they’re going in, and then make an informed choice from there.
We crowdsourced a bunch of people in the fitness industry to see what they say.
Here’s New York City trainer Gerren Liles with some pretty straightforward advice.
Gerren Liles: Move, move, move. Periodically, get up. Go from your living room to the bedroom. From the bedroom to the kitchen. Walk up the stairs. Walk down the stairs.
I also like to recommend doing small workouts throughout the day instead of just doing one long workout at a particular point in your day just to remain active.
Gupta: And I always like to point out that exercising isn’t just to benefit your physical health.
It’s good to remember that we need to keep our minds healthy as well. Here’s fitness trainer Jeanette Jenkins.
Gupta: And, of course, you can always take a walk or run outdoors. The risk of getting the virus while you’re running is really low, but it’s not zero.
Same rules apply — just maintain physical distance. With all the heavy breathing, you may even want to double the usual 6 feet to 12 feet, just to be safe.
When I run, I make sure to run when it’s less crowded. I try and do it early in the morning or late at night. And if I see someone in front of me, I switch to the other side of the road.
This is important. There are a lot of ways we can stay fit, both physically and mentally.
And for people at home, which is most of us nowadays, we have a special bonus episode today with celebrity fitness trainer Jeanette Jenkins. She’s going to walk you through some stretches you can even do from your desk. I’ll be doing ’em. I hope you join us as well.
We’ll be back tomorrow, thanks for listening.