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How to Run Safely During the COVID-19 Pandemic

lower body shot of man running on gravel road near coastline

 Verywell

Key Takeaways

  • Running outdoors can have positive benefits for your physical and mental health during the coronavirus pandemic.
  • If your local outdoor spaces are too crowded, you can try an at-home treadmill workout, yoga, or resistance training to reap the benefits.
  • To avoid risking your health while running, it's important to practice social distancing and wear a cloth mask or other face covering in crowded areas.

Our bodies still require some physical activity, even when a pandemic hits and you need to stay away from others (or practice “social distancing"—the new ubiquitous term). Even though gyms have locked their doors, local running groups canceled all events and races moved their dates to several months from now, you shouldn’t let this stop you from lacing up your shoes and working out—whether that includes running or another form of fitness.

To safely work out during this time, you need to take necessary precautions to keep yourself and others healthy. These tips can help you modify your exercise during this evolving and often confusing time.

Run in Nature

If you feel empowered to do this, head out for a solo run in a less crowded natural or green environment. You should be mindful of keeping at least six feet of distance between you and another person at all times (the recommended amount during this COVID-19 pandemic).

Why head outside? According to a study published in Extreme Physiology & Medicine, outdoor exercise can increase self-esteem and negative moods like depression and tension. Such adverse feelings tend to run high when 1) the news and social media present constant morbid statistics and 2) you are staying inside without much human contact.

For those who feel uncomfortable going outdoors for long periods of time during a pandemic, even a few minutes of running outside can make a difference. Researchers in this study note that the first five minutes of green exercise appears to have the most major impact on mood and self-esteem. This suggests that you can get an immediate psychological health benefit when you exercise outside — important for those experiencing loneliness during COVID-19's comprehensive lock downs.

The study recommends exercising in these green outdoor spaces:

  • Forests
  • Seasides
  • Local parks if open
  • Gardens
  • Countrysides (which might not have any crowds)

In addition, if you’re used to running in groups, taking your workout to a green environment could offer up the same social benefits. In a study from Perspectives in Public Health, researchers compared participants in a social workout club with participants following a solo green exercise program.

They found that the change in self-esteem was actually significantly greater in the green exercise group when compared to the social club. The researchers conclude that people experiencing mental ill health, an outdoor workout can be as or more effective than working out in groups.

Treadmill Running

Your weekend long runs might not happen during this time, as maybe your regular running places are simply too crowded (with people disobeying the six-foot space rule). For anyone with access to a home treadmill, you could try maximizing your running time on this exercise equipment instead by doing the following:

Add Plyometric Training

Try 200 jumps with five to 10 short treadmill sprints. In a study from the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, researchers found this drill on middle- and long-distance runners offered a great beneficial effect to their running economy.

Do a High-Intensity Interval Training Workout (HIIT)

The American Council on Exercise (ACE) offers this HIIT-running workout, which you could do outside or on a treadmill. If you don't have a treadmill, you could run stairs indoors, or run in place (adding high knees and butt kicks for intensity and variation).

  • Brief warm-up
  • 30 seconds low speed
  • 20 seconds medium speed
  • 10 seconds high-intensity speed
  • Do this 30-20-10 workout for five minutes
  • Rest for two minutes
  • Do three or four sets of the above five-minute blocks

Practice Uphill Training

Outdoor runners don’t always find it easy to practice going uphill. Instead, treadmills can offer this type of training in a safe environment and help you build up heart and lung health. You can also use stairs (indoors or out) if you have access to them.

Try a New Activity

Perhaps you find taking a break from training a bit tempting during this time and choose to spend your hours binge watching shows instead of getting your heart rate up. Don't let a pandemic become a reason for neglecting your fitness. You still need exercise for both your body's health and your mental health.

During this time, you should work to follow the American Heart Association’s physical activity recommendations: Get at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic activity, or a combination or both, spread throughout the week.

Potential new physical activities to try, which also happen to benefit runners, include the following:

  • Yoga: The studios might be closed but you can do your own personal yoga practice to help with your running. In a study from the International Journal of Yoga, researchers found significant gains in flexibility, balance and athletic performance after a 10-week period of yoga sessions in male athletes.
  • Resistance training: Using a couple of dumbbells or water jugs you purchased for your ever-important food supply, you can strength train. For the uninitiated to resistance training, you can stick to the basics: walking lunges, bicep curls, squats and tricep curls. Why weight lift? According to the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s School of Medicine and Public Health, adding a weight regime into a distance running program can result in less injuries and an overall better running performance.
  • Fostering a dog: With COVID-19, dog shelters across the country are either shutting down or working with a skeleton crew. You can offer to foster a dog during this time to not only help out a four-legged friend in need, but also take your new buddy for runs around the neighborhood, forcing you to get a run/walk in even when you want to stay inside. You’ll also get some friendly company you might not receive when social distancing.

Keep Yourself as Healthy as Possible

People who tested positive for COVID-19 often say they have trouble breathing. If you feel shortness of breath or dizzy, stop running immediately. Any extra coughing (not just your typical sprinter’s cough) or if you feel feverish, you should see a medical professional right away. You don’t want to risk your own health for a few extra miles.

To try to keep yourself healthy when running during the COVID-19 pandemic, consider the following:

Wear Proper Clothes

The U.S. National Library of Medicine says to look for words like moisture-wicking, Dri-fit, Coolmax and Supplex, and to choose socks made of a polyester blend or other special fabric. You should also avoid cotton as this fabric stays wet, which could make you more susceptible to getting sick. Although many retail stores have their doors closed at the moment, you can still online shop for appropriate workout apparel.

While it is safest to run in areas where you can maintain your distance from others, that may not always be possible if you live in a city that is densely populated. If so, you may choose to wear a cloth mask or other face covering to help protect those around you.

Stay Inside in Bad Weather

April showers bring May flowers…so they say. But April showers means you need to take your workout indoors during COVID-19, even if you are used to running in anything. Getting wet can make you more vulnerable to the cold and you might not be able to keep your core body temperature high enough. In these times, you might want to consider staying inside when it’s raining—your own health is at risk.

Change Clothes and Shower Right After Your Workout

Run, don’t walk to your shower. According to a study from Applied and Environmental Microbiology, textiles aren’t sterile and can harbor bacteria as sweat and bacteria are transmitted from the skin. You need to get out of these clothes and rinse away any bacteria with soap and water before they transfer to anything or anyone else.

Stay Hydrated

As a combatant to COVID-19, you need to prevent dehydration—something almost completely within your control. The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency says that athletes should keep a bottle of fluid available when working out and drink ideally every 15 to 20 minutes. You shouldn’t wait until you feel thirsty because by then, you might have lost more than two percent of your body weight.

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  2. Barton J, Griffin M, Pretty J. Exercise-, nature- and socially interactive-based initiatives improve mood and self-esteem in the clinical population. Perspect Public Health. 2012;132(2):89-96. doi:10.1177/1757913910393862

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