Is It Really Safe to Exercise Outside?

How to go for a run or a walk without making it a health risk

Photo: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

While he agrees that runners and pedestrians en route should adhere to the six-foot guidance whenever possible, he says they’ve got a bit of breathing room.

Is it okay to be less than six feet away from someone while running past them?

The novel coronavirus can spread between people in close contact, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines as “within about six feet” (think the length of a mattress). Public health officials have urged people to maintain this distance, even while exercising. In theory, if someone exposed to the virus coughs or sneezes, passersby could inhale those respiratory droplets and contract the virus.

An important question about exercising outside is whether breathing heavily impacts that droplet radius. But since research on SARS-CoV-2 is in early stages, scientists don’t know the answer.

Can you get the coronavirus through the air outside when other people are around?

Since people can carry the virus without showing symptoms, another worrying scenario has emerged: A person who’s unknowingly infected might go for a run in a park and cough or sneeze, leaving behind tiny droplets laden with the virus, which early evidence suggests can remain suspended in the air for short periods of time.

What about surfaces a runner encounters outdoors?

The same NEJM study found SARS-CoV-2 on plastic and stainless steel 72 hours after it was first applied. These findings suggest that the virus also sticks on surfaces that people might touch outside: pedestrian “walk” signs, benches, playground equipment.

Emily Moon is a New York-based journalist writing about health and culture. Previously she was a staff writer at Pacific Standard.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store