This Is The Absolute Worst Place to Go in Your Gym During Coronavirus

Don't set foot in the sauna or steam room if you want to stay safe.

After weeks or even months of working out at home, many people are eager to get back to their favorite fitness facilities. But even as gyms, fitness centers, and workout studios reopen, the danger of contracting or spreading coronavirus still lurks. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have issued several guidelines for gym-goers to follow to keep their risk low, which include maintaining social distance, wiping down equipment frequently, avoiding equipment that can't be easily sanitized (such as resistance bands), and wearing a face covering when interacting with people or doing low-intensity activities. But health experts say that there's also a whole area of your gym that you should avoid for the time being, due to coronavirus: the sauna or steam room.

The CDC guidelines don't specifically say to shun the sauna altogether, but they do recommend maintaining the proper six feet of distance while enjoying it. Based on the size of your facility's sauna, this may not even be possible with more than one person inside. And any mask or face covering you wear would be useless the moment it got wet.

"Anything that can potentially aerosolize the virus is dangerous," says Janette Nesheiwat, MD, family and emergency medicine doctor. "Saunas, steam rooms, and nebulizer treatments can spread the virus, which can remain in the air for hours at a time."

Empty sauna
Shutterstock/Krivosheev Vitaly

The International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) notes in its safety guidelines for gym and fitness center owners that "the hard surface, temperature, and humid conditions [of a sauna] means the virus may be more likely to survive" inside. For this reason, they recommend that gym owners sanitize the sauna or steam room between users, which is likely not feasible in most facilities. You should assume then, that any public or semi-public sauna has not been cleaned before your arrival and steer clear.

Even more frightening, saunas and steam rooms have been touted for years as a great way to "sweat out" a cold. Though it's been advised by various medical authorities that individuals showing symptoms of coronavirus—which often include cold-like symptoms such as cough, runny nose, and loss of taste and smell—stay home and self-isolate, you can't be sure that everyone around you is following that recommendation. You could end up in the sauna right after a person who thought they'd attack a "cold"—that's really COVID-19—with heat and humidity.

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A recent Norwegian study (which has not yet been peer-reviewed) aimed to determine whether working out in a gym under moderate safety restrictions increased participants' chances of contracting COVID-19. In this case, it did not. (Norway, unlike the United States, has successfully flattened the curve, so it's important to note that the results could be very different if the trial had been done stateside.) Among the precautionary measures they took? Ensuring that saunas and showers were off-limits to gym-goers. While this doesn't prove that their chances of getting coronavirus would have been higher if they had used those facilities, it clearly didm't hurt to stay away—and researchers did determine that they were a potential source of danger.

"Those are small enclosed spaces with poor ventilation and high in liquid droplets in the air—the perfect environment for spreading the virus that causes COVID-19," William Li, MD, physician scientist and Angiogenesis Foundation president, tells Best Life. And if you want to stay safe while you get fit, This Is the Biggest Mistake You're Making When You Go Back to the Gym.

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Sage Young
Sage Young is the Deputy Entertainment Editor at Best Life, expanding and honing our coverage in this vertical by managing a team of industry-obsessed writers. Read more
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