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Running in the Age of Coronavirus

By Kelly Speers, PT, DPT

June 26, 2020

Kelly Speers is a graduate of the Drexel University DPT Program and is currently a resident in the Drexel University Orthopaedic Physical Therapy Residency Program.

Should we be running outside in the age of the coronavirus? It seems that guidelines and recommendations are changing rapidly. I am here to give you some tips on staying safe. It is important now more than ever to take care of ourselves and I would like to encourage everyone to stay active. That includes you, runners!

Running has been shown to improve mood and mental well-being. The benefits of running and other forms of exercise do not stop there. Exercising has positive effects on all of our bodily systems including our heart and lung function, digestive system, cognition, joint and bone health, and it can even boost our immune system!

Engaging in moderate intensity exercise can improve immune function compared to a sedentary state.¹ There is even evidence to support that moderate intensity exercise can improve the immune response to fight respiratory infections.² However, it is not advisable to perform high intensity or long runs during this time. That’s because strenuous or continuous exercise (> 90 consecutive minutes) can cause a temporary suppression in immune function.² Therefore, its best to avoid over-training in order to reap the benefits of exercise and boost the immune system. With this in mind, I think we can agree on the importance of staying physically active during our quarantine. So keep on running, Philadelphia!

Here are some tips on staying safe during your run:

1. Keep your distance: Follow the CDC recommendations of social distancing, which includes staying 6 feet away from others. This is about two arms lengths away. It may be wise for runners to increase that distance as people may be breathing heavy, and wind can affect how far your respiratory droplets are dispersed. Therefore, give yourselves and others extra space to pass on the road or trail.

2. Running Solo: To maintain social distancing, putting in your headphones and running solo is your best option. Postpone your group runs for now. However, when running solo be aware of your surroundings—turn your music down, run during daylight, and bring your phone. Safety is priority!

3. Avoid touching shared surfaces: The virus can last hours and even up to a few days on surfaces. When running outside, limit your exposure by not touching things like cross walk buttons or public water fountains. Bring a water bottle with you.

4. Mask or No Mask? The CDC is recommending face coverings for all individuals in situations where maintaining social distancing is difficult, which can include outdoor exercise. Additionally, Pennsylvania is requiring face coverings to be worn when entering essential businesses. So what does this mean for you, runners?

Well, the face coverings are meant to avoid spreading infection from yourself to others when out in public. There are evolving options to use as face coverings, including bandanas and homemade cloth masks. Medical masks and N95 masks should be saved for healthcare workers. Pennsylvania guidelines state that masks “should not be worn damp or when wet with spit or mucus.” As you can imagine, this is problematic when running and heavy breathing. Therefore, if you are running on a quiet route or secluded path and you are able to maintain social distancing, a face covering is not necessarily needed. If you cannot maintain social distancing, you should adhere to the guidelines and protect yourself and others. For further guidance, check out PA’s ‘Best Practices’ for mask wearing here. Lastly, if you are feeling sick, it is best to stay home.

In short, the benefits of exercise are numerous. Running can boost your mood and immune function. Don’t let the coronavirus interfere with your physical activity. Follow the CDC recommendations. Stay active, stay healthy, and stay safe!

1. Gleeson, M. (2007). Immune function in sport and exercise. Journal of applied physiology, 103(2), 693-699.
2. Martin, S. A., Pence, B. D., & Woods, J. A. (2009). Exercise and respiratory tract viral infections. Exercise and sport sciences reviews, 37(4), 157.