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Walking or running outside? Here's what experts recommend to stay safe

Is walking or running outside safe during coronavirus? Experts share advice about how social distancing impacts outdoor activities.
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/ Source: TODAY

As gyms continue to close their doors to slow the spread of coronavirus, frequent runners have one question in mind: Is it safe to run outdoors?

Two experts said that exercising outside should be safe, as long as appropriate social distancing methods are maintained.

"I think it's really important to be able to get our exercise in, even if we can't go to the gym," said Crystal Watson, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security who focuses on public health preparedness. "It's a wonderful way to keep up mental and physical health."

Experts say it's safe to run outdoors, so long as you're maintaining an appropriate distance between other runners.
Experts say it's safe to run outdoors, so long as you're maintaining an appropriate distance between other runners. Getty Images

Is it safe to run outside?

So long as social distancing can be maintained, you should be pretty safe running outdoors.

"As long as you're going to a non-crowded place ... at this point, I would encourage people to do that," said Dr. Saad Omer, the director of the Yale Institute for Global Health and a professor of infectious diseases at the Yale School of Medicine. "Social distancing doesn't mean nature distancing. Go out, as long as you have distance."

Both doctors emphasized the need to keep a six-foot distance between yourself and other runners to maintain appropriate social distancing.

"As long as you are keeping at least a six-foot distance from the next person, running outside is particularly reasonable," said Omer. "I think it's healthy to do that."

Omer said that running outdoors poses less risk of spreading the coronavirus, as opposed to exercising in a gym or workout class.

"We know that there is a radius where droplets settle on surfaces, and people touch them," he said. "That is the risk of transmission. Outdoors, when you're jogging and moving around, that's a different thing. You're not touching things ... For the sake of the community and your own loved ones, it's best to avoid places where you're touching things."

Watson added that people can even run in parks and other areas, so long as they are not being closed by governing bodies and they are not too crowded.

"I think if it's a really crowded space, then definitely avoid it, but if you're just going to pass by people, I think people are being pretty wary about staying six feet apart right now," she said. "As long as it's not a very crowded space, I think it's OK to go out along your normal routes."

Is it safe to walk outside?

Walking outdoors is another great way to get some fresh air and some exercise - and it's just as safe as running, so long as you continue to take proper precautions.

Standard rules like social distancing and bringing a mask still apply; if you're walking at a slower pace, it may help to just wear your mask, so you don't have to worry about taking it on and off.

"Outside exercise it's a lower risk activity, assuming that you have distance between you and others," said Keri Althoff, Ph.D., an associate professor of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland. "Even when you're outside exercising you still don't want to get too close to people."

"I, in my own neighborhood, have seen walkers, who realize that sometimes their options are pass a little closer on the sidewalk or jump into the street, and they don't, they don't want to jump to the street for obvious reasons. So I will see walkers with masks on," she continued. "If you're comfortable wearing the mask when you're walking, do it, it's a good idea."

However, if you don't feel comfortable wearing a mask while walking, don't let that keep you indoors.

"You don't want to see someone not exercise outdoors or exercise at all because being masked is providing discomfort," Althoff said. "That's the key part about exercising outside. Do it stay healthy. Keep your brain healthy with exercise as well. Keep your stress levels lower with exercise and do it in a smart way."