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Safely Exercising During the Pandemic

ACSM statement highlights 12 action items for safe return following lockdown.

Exercising during the pandemic

Supporting a healthy immune system is particularly important during the pandemic, and exercise is one way to boost health. The American College of Sports Medicine has issued a statement detailing how the average healthy person can safely return to exercise during the pandemic. “Physical activity is critical to health outcomes and [is] an essential component of weathering the pandemic,” said statement co-author William Roberts, MD, MS, FACSM, ACSM past president.

“The effects of exercise on the immune system are well documented, and a thoughtful approach to [returning] to sport and physical activity after a period of inactivity is critical,” said principal statement author Thomas Best, MD, PhD, FACSM, ACSM past president. In particular, fitness professionals should ensure that people who have recovered from COVID-19 follow medical guidance.

Here’s a summary of the 12 actions:

  1. If well, do moderate activity for 150–300 minutes per week; less is still beneficial.
  2. If you have had COVID-19, consult with a primary care physician about a safe return to exercise.
  3. Exercise indoors or outside with physical distancing and use face coverings as needed to minimize droplet spread.
  4. Maintain immune health with 150–300 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per week and keep a healthy body weight.
  5. If at high risk, avoid exhaustive exercise, overreaching and overtraining.
  6. After mild or moderate COVID-19 resolution, or after a positive COVID-19 test, rest with no exercise for 2 weeks. Slowly resume physical activity under healthcare monitoring.
  7. For sports disciplines, apply and adapt World Health Organization interim guidelines, COVID-19 mitigation checklists and risk assessment toolkits.
  8. Use innovative strategies to promote physical activity during the pandemic.
  9. Develop policies to safely reintroduce group activities.
  10. Optimize sports medicine telehealth to have broad appeal across diverse populations.
  11. Ensure equal access to telehealth.
  12. Implement mask-wearing and testing to reduce spread, and avoid close contact when measures fail. When universal masking cannot occur (e.g., during competitions or high-intensity exercise), diagnostic testing and contact-tracing protocols become increasingly important, especially for sports where contact risk is high.

“Regular exercise improves physical and mental health and is safe when physically distanced, especially outdoors,” said Roberts. “Indoors and outdoors with others around, masking may be the difference between staying healthy and getting sick. Remember the four D’s for exercising around others during the pandemic: Double the distance and don’t draft.”

The statement is available at Current Sports Medicine Reports (2020; 19 [8], 326–28).

See also: Help Clients Return to Training Safely, Smartly


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Shirley Archer-Eichenberger, JD, MA

Shirley Archer, JD, MA, is an internationally acknowledged integrative health and mindfulness specialist, best-selling author of 16 fitness and wellness books translated into multiple languages and sold worldwide, award-winning health journalist, contributing editor to Fitness Journal, media spokesperson, and IDEA's 2008 Fitness Instructor of the Year. She's a 25-year industry veteran and former health and fitness educator at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, who has served on multiple industry committees and co-authored trade books and manuals for ACE, ACSM and YMCA of the USA. She has appeared on TV worldwide and was a featured trainer on America's Next Top Model.

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