While the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread, causing bike races—and many other large events—to be postponed and canceled, you might be wondering what you should do for your own personal health and how this could affect your training.
We tapped David Nieman, Dr.PH., health professor at Appalachian State University and director of the Human Performance Lab at the North Carolina Research Campus, and Brian Labus, Ph.D., MPH, assistant professor in the School of Public Health at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, to help answer cyclists’ most frequently asked questions.
Is it safe to ride outside?
Yes—in fact, it’s safer to be outside than inside when it comes to disease transmission. When people congregate together and someone sneezes or coughs, droplets get onto objects that people touch, and then people touch their face, Nieman explains. The best plan for riding right now is to go out and ride with a healthy buddy or small group and enjoy the outdoors.
Additionally, people might be afraid to ride outside in the colder weather for fear of illness, but that’s not true; there is no data that you will get sick from really any respiratory pathogen when riding in cold weather, Nieman says.
Should you avoid riding in groups?
Your exposure to sick people in that situation should be minimal, as someone who has a fever and a cough won’t feel like going for a ride, Labus says. When in a group, you could protect yourself a bit by spreading out and avoiding unnecessary hand-touching. Don’t share water bottles or snacks. And of course, don’t forget to wash your hands when you get back.
Can you ride outside if you are quarantined?
Getting in 30 to 60 minutes of moderate to brisk activity can help your immune system keep viruses at bay. During a quarantine, Nieman suggests doing some exercise wherever you are to keep healthy—doing bodyweight exercises or riding on your living room trainer are great ways to do this. Unless you’re sick.
“If you do have flu or coronavirus, or have a fever, sick people think wrongly they can ‘exercise the virus out of the system’ or ‘sweat it out,’ that’s a myth. It’s actually the opposite,” Neiman says.
Should I avoid touching things outside?
The latest data with the novel coronavirus is that it does not last very long on objects outside because of the exposure to sunlight (UV light). In general, objects outside should have little virus on them, Nieman explained. However, there could be a problem if someone coughs into his or her hand immediately before touching something like a traffic button, and then you touch the traffic button after them. If you must touch something, do not touch your face after. Even better? Use a glove, sleeve, or elbow.
Can coronavirus be spread through sweat?
According to the CDC, transmission of the coronavirus happens between people who are in close contact with one another (about six feet) and through respiratory droplets, produced through a cough or sneeze—not sweat.
Am I contagious if I have no symptoms?
This is one thing we don’t fully understand yet about coronavirus. You are probably contagious right before you begin to show symptoms, but we don’t know for what time period and we don’t know how contagious. It makes sense that you would be more contagious once you are coughing, but we don’t fully understand transmission yet, Labus says.
Social distancing is the answer right now, Nieman says. Experts are still trying to figure out how long the virus lives on objects, and the problem is that it appears to be highly contagious, spread easily by coughing and sneezing, and can be spread by people who don’t think they’re sick. That’s why hand-washing and not touching your face are so important.
Is my immune system weaker postride or after a hard workout?
As you deplete your stores of glycogen, your immune system does not function as well as it normally does. That means in the hours following a hard ride or race, if you have been exposed to someone who has been sick with the flu or coronavirus, your bodies defenses are down, Neiman says. Additionally, mental or physical stress—caused by exerting yourself on a long ride, in a race, or after very hard workout—could slightly increase your chances of becoming ill, Labus explains.
“I would caution cyclists to avoid long, intense rides or workouts right now until we get through all this and just to kind of keep things under control,” Nieman says. “Don’t overdo it. Be worried more about health than fitness.”
However, that doesn’t mean you need to quit riding or exercising altogether. There is a very strong connection between regular exercise and a strong immune system in the first place, so the long-term immune system benefits of exercising far outweigh any short-term concerns, Labus says.
Are gyms safe for indoor training?
While your gym of choice already sanitizes machines and locker rooms and (hopefully) your fellow gym-goers are cleaning up after themselves and washing their hands, most gyms have implemented additional cleaning. And, according to the CDC, it may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface that has the virus on it, like a treadmill or weights, and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.
Gyms, like Lifetime Fitness, Planet Fitness, and WORK Training Studio, have issued statements to their clients about how each is tackling the virus—taking steps such as adding additional hand sanitizer and antibacterial wipes around the studios, and suggesting no high-fiving during workouts. And, some gyms are temporarily closing out of an abundance of caution, so be sure to check your local gym before heading there for a workout.
“Wipe down the equipment before you use it to make sure that you have removed any viruses the previous use left behind. You should also remember to wash your hands regularly, especially after your workout,” Labus says.
Are indoor workout classes like indoor cycling at the gym safe options for continuing to work out?
Yes, but with a caveat. Wipe down the equipment before you use it to make sure that you have removed any viruses the previous use left behind, Labus says. You should also remember to wash your hands regularly, especially after your workout and wipe down all your equipment when you are done using it.
If people are using public bike shares, like CitiBike, are there any extra precautions to take?
If an ill person has used it right before you, they could leave behind their viruses on the handlebars. If you wipe it down before you use it, that should protect you against being exposed to many different diseases, Labus says.
And, so far the information points to when things are outside and have sun exposure (UV light)—like bikes sitting in docks—that helps sanitize the surface.
In general, using bike shares should be okay, but it wouldn’t hurt to have gloves on. And, be sure to wash your hands as soon as you can and avoid touching your face, Nieman says.
If my race isn’t canceled, should I go?
You might be wondering what to do about the upcoming race you’ve been training for. The likelihood you would be exposed to someone sneezing or coughing is pretty low, and you’re more likely to run into that indoors than outdoors.
Plus, if a person has the flu or coronavirus, they’re going to be feeling pretty sick and not up to riding. The problem becomes when you have many people jammed at a starting line, or large groups of spectators.
Nieman suggests that the goal right now is to avoid crowds and gatherings of people indoors and outdoors until we know better about how the virus can spread.
If my race is canceled but there are other group ride events in its place, should I go?
You might be seeing group rides or unofficial races popping up in your community in place of canceled races. But any time people come together, there is a chance for the disease to spread. If you are mindful of your interactions with others and take basic steps to protect yourself, like washing your hands, limiting direct contact with others, and not touching your face, you can reduce your risk of many different infections, Labus says. Remember that, even though everyone is focused on coronavirus, flu is still circulating widely.