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Am I the Asshole for Going to the Gym During the Coronavirus?

Finally, a good excuse to skip leg day

There’s a whole lotta talk about “social distancing” right now, but I’m not sure if that means “don’t make out with strangers at clubs” or “don’t even glance at another human walking across the street from your third-floor apartment window.” Like, okay, maybe no hand shakes right now, but can I leave my house at all?

This week, we’ll be exploring the different scenarios why you might want or need to enter the public during the coronavirus pandemic, and determining an essential aspect for your consideration: Will doing this make me an asshole? 

In today’s segment, we’ll explore whether going out for some exercise makes you an asshole.

After a weekend cooped up at home, going to the gym actually sounds pretty good right now. I just wanna see another human being! I promise I’ll stay six feet away from them! Plus, isn’t exercise good for us? Won’t it help build immunity? 

Whatever my reasoning for wanting to go to the gym or to a group class might be, it doesn’t really matter. Across the board, coronavirus experts and medical professionals agree on one thing: Going out in public when you don’t absolutely have to makes you an asshole

Cities across the country have finally started enforcing some top-down efforts to restrict the spread of the virus. In L.A., for example, bars, dine-in restaurants, entertainment venues and gyms are all required to shut down. 

In Illinois, Massachusetts and Ohio, similar measures are being implemented statewide. While these restrictions might only currently impact a fraction of the country, they’re a pretty solid framework for the kinds of places you should be avoiding on your own. 

Although you might be able to avoid getting too close to people at the gym, you’d still be touching a ton of equipment. The virus isn’t spread through sweat, but someone could easily sneeze or cough on a machine. Though most gyms have disinfectant wipes available, there’s no guarantee that you or anyone else will do an adequate job wiping down their weights or treadmill when they’re done with it. 

That doesn’t mean, though, that you can’t get any exercise. In fact, it doesn’t even entirely mean you can’t leave the house. According to Risa Wong, an oncology fellow at the University of Washington and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, we’re still allowed to go for walks, runs, bike rides or other independent outdoor activities, “as long as you avoid close contact with others and avoid touching things that other people have touched or will touch while you’re outside,” she says (like, for example, the bullshit crosswalk button). (The general recommendation is to keep at least six feet apart from others and to obviously sanitize your hands before and after touching any buttons, door handles, etc.) 

Now, you might see some people arguing that exercise is good for our immunity, as is some good ol’ Vitamin D from the sun. And while that’s kinda true, building up a strong immune system takes time, and exercise is only one component of doing so. For exercise to truly boost our immune system, it needs to be a regular part of your daily routine alongside other healthy stuff like eating veggies and not smoking. Also of note: In the past, studies on lab mice have shown that bouts of rigorous exercise actually temporarily suppresses the immune system. 

In fairness, though, whether that’s true or not for humans is contested, and the general consensus is that moderate exercise (whatever that means to you) is good for immunity. But maybe don’t push yourself through some three-hour solo bootcamp when you haven’t worked out in nearly a decade, okay?