What You Need To Know: Staying Physically Active During A Pandemic
Georgia Public Broadcasting’s new series What You Need To Know: Coronavirus provides succinct, fact-based information to help you get through the coronavirus pandemic with your health and sanity intact.
Gyms and fitness centers in Georgia are allowed to re-open, but many are not. So, when is it the right time to reopen, and how should people be handling their own physical health during the pandemic? GPB's Taylor Gantt checks in with Dr. Jonathan Kim, the chief of sports cardiology at Emory University. He’s also the team cardiologist for the Atlanta Braves, Hawks, Falcons and the Atlanta Dream.
So should gyms and fitness centers be reopening right now?
That's a great question. I think for me personally as a cardiologist, I'm going to rely on my colleagues and experts in public health. And what they're telling us, of course, [is] cases are rising in Georgia. Deaths are rising in Georgia. We haven't seen that drop off in terms of those numbers. And because of that, for me, I was surprised when I heard that gyms were reopened.
And I think as a cardiologist and somebody who deals with athletic individuals, when I look at gyms, I see a potential risk of exposure for many different reasons for all levels of patients and individuals who go to the gym — shared spaces, shared amenities, shared equipment, for one.
Number two, think of the act of aerobic exercise. You're on a treadmill. There's increased ventilation. And of course, you know, there's a concern of further droplets spread just because you're breathing much harder and you touch your face a lot when you exercise.
I mean, I think we've all learned over the last month or two that we touch our face way more than we thought we did just because we're much more cognizant of that. But when you're exercising, wiping off perspiration, that obviously happens a lot more frequently. And so because of all of these factors, I do think that risk of exposure is something that's a concern to me right now.
On a more personal level, some of your patients with cardiovascular issues have been dealing with COVID-19. What are some of the things you've been hearing from them? What are some of their experiences?
Well, we're just beginning to see this, of course, as it relates to the recovered patient, the recovered athlete. And I think clearly over time, we're going to have more of these individuals that seek counseling as it relates toward [a] return to exercise.
So the first thing I emphasize, though, for anyone across the board is to focus on that time period of isolation. You need that at least two week period where, of course, you're not exposing others. We know that when you are infected with COVID after the first week, that's when symptoms can certainly dramatically worsen. So [I] really would encourage to have that initial two weeks of isolation.
And then once and if you develop symptoms, the timeframe after symptoms resolve, I think is probably a little bit debatable. And again, that's more an opinion based answers in relation to when you can get back to exercise.
So if I focus on somebody who has no symptoms, mildly ill and they're just trying to get back to these moderate levels of exercise, I would say after that two week period, that's when you can begin to do a little bit, go up for a brisk walk, start to build your level of exercise back to those recommended baseline levels.
If there are symptoms, if you're still feeling poorly after two weeks, really at that point, you're going to get your doctor involved. And the question getting back to exercise is not as important as just making sure that there's nothing else brewing as it relates towards having covered or that your symptoms are just not worsening and you've got to get better.
So for people who are not dealing with the virus right now, but who may be dealing with some physical and emotional problems with well-being — maybe perhaps from a lack of exercise if that was a really, really important part of their lives — what do you suggest are some ways people can perhaps get that required level of exercise without returning to a gym right away? What would you say to people who are looking for an answer?
Certainly, I'm a runner myself and being out and about, I notice a lot more people outside. So again, when you're outside in nature, there's more space. And as long as you're maintaining still that social distance, of course, jogging, cycling, walking, running. I have patients of mine actually that are triathletes. And for these patients, they live nearby a lake, it's starting to maybe warm up and they're there or they're putting on their wetsuit. They're getting out swimming in the lakes, et cetera. So there's other means of being able to be active, of course. Work around the house, getting out in the yard, spring cleaning. All these different–playing with your kids.
So for my cardiac patients, it is a bit of a challenge. You know, these are patients. We know that cardiology patients, patients with heart disease, exercise is medicine. That's a mode of therapy that we rely on. Many of these patients use cardiac rehab where they go to the gym and they shouldn't be going to these places right now. That's the highest risk patient, in my opinion. And it can be very tempting to try to go back to the gym. I would encourage these patients, these individuals, to still stay home. I know not all of us have the luxury of owning a treadmill or a bike, but doing what you can at home and doing what you can out in nature. That's the best that the best and safest thing that I think patients should engage in right now.