Social Distancing and Running Outside - Keep Running!

Mar 18, 2020

During this unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic what advice is out there for those us who absolutely want to do the right thing ensuring the health and wellbeing of both family and community comes first, but if we are healthy can we continue our normal exercise routine including outdoor exercise?

Some countries such as Singapore and Hong Kong, who have had a somewhat comparable experience through the SARS outbreak, are seemingly implementing and managing the spread of the virus very well. Whereas for countries such as Australia this is entirely new and so looking for guidance on what you can and can’t do is entirely understandable and a good question.

The Australian government current advice is that we all practice distancing, a phrase we have all now heard, but what exactly does it mean? 

Social distancing is one way to help slow the spread of viruses such as COVID-19. Social distancing includes staying at home when you are unwell, avoiding large public gatherings if they’re not essential, keeping a distance of 1.5 metres between you and other people whenever possible and minimising physical contact such as shaking hands, especially with people at higher risk of developing serious symptoms, such as older people and people with existing health conditions.
There’s no need to change your daily routine, but taking these social distancing precautions can help protect the people in our community who are most at risk.

One of the most high-profile impacts has been the cancellation and postponing of professional sports events and leagues, but additionally most amateur races taking place in the coming months have also been called off.

While racing may not be a possibility can I still train and do what’s required of me from a social distancing perspective?

As a triathlete two key questions I have been asking myself:
Is it OK to run outdoors while social distancing?
Is it OK to cycle outdoors while social distancing?

I found a great article from the Australian Business Insider – You can still go for a run outside while social distancing during the coronavirus outbreak

The following a few key extracts.

Unless you are very sick or under a quarantine that requires you to stay indoors, running (or walking) outside is one of the few activities experts agree remains pretty safe.
“Running outside remains an incredibly good workout option in the midst of the COVID-19 scare,” Dr. Jebidiah Ballard.
Running or walking outdoors may be better than other types of socially-isolating workouts.
While at-home workouts can keep up your fitness during a period of isolation, not everyone has that kind of space or accommodating roommates. Plus, they keep you inside, which has its downfalls for your physical and mental health.
“I don’t need to quote a study to let you know that if you’ve been inside all day, a little time outdoors will improve your mood,” Ballard said. “Vitamin D also plays a role in immune function, and sunlight is needed for our bodies to convert it to its active form."
Even cycling outdoors alone may not be as good of an option as running since you might be more likely to injure yourself, and thus burden the healthcare system, which is why the Italian government has banned the activity altogether.
Running or walking outside is safe for healthy people if you follow precautions.
If you’re in a low-risk group for contracting serious illness from the coronavirus and not experiencing symptoms, and your city hasn’t required a lockdown, the advice for running or walking outside follows the same guidelines as other types of social distancing.
“The general principle should be: Outside is better than inside, open is better than closed, fewer is better than more people, and stay away from sick people,” Dr. Erich Anderer.
Ideally, you run alone on an empty trail or road, but that’s not always practical, possible, or safe, so running with a friend or two while keeping the recommended six-foot distance is also OK.



So what about cycling v running? As outlined above cycling, particularly on the roads, can involve more risk and a greater potential for substantial injury requiring hospitalisation. At a time when the health care system is stretched and all resources focused on fighting Covid-19 this is something to consider if heading outside. The good news is there is always the option to hit the indoor trainer at home. Maybe drag it out into the backyard / on the balcony for a bit of the best of both worlds...   

What about the mental health challenges around social distancing? From a personal perspective exercise and being able to maintain a daily routine including outdoor exercise play an incredibly important part in maintaining my own mental health. I’m sure many are the same and perhaps anxious around what the new measures around social distancing might mean. Of course, everyone’s situation and circumstances are different and should always seek your own professional medical advice if required however hopefully this summary of my own research to date is of interest and assistance. For myself, while I can, the bottom line is implement social distancing but Keep Running!

Hopefully see you on the trail / road, with a wave a healthy 1.5m away….

Wishing everyone the best during these challenging times.

John

References (extracts in italic):
Australian Department of Health
The extracts above are from Australian Department of Health - Coronavirus (COVID-19) – frequently asked questions
Business Insider - You can still go for a run outside while social distancing during the coronavirus outbreak