An Infectious-Disease Expert Doesn't Want You Working Out With Friends Right Now

We've given you tons of tools to work out at home during the coronavirus pandemic — YouTube channels, social media live streams from notable brands, and sweat sessions using household items. But we also want to stress a very important fact that should probably go without saying: do not invite people over to work out with you at home. Working out with someone you don't live with is going against the social-distancing guidelines advised in order to stop the spread of novel coronavirus.

In communities where the local and/or state government has asked everyone who isn't an essential worker to stay home or shelter in place (since some counties or cities have guidelines while some overall states do not), staying active only with those you live with or by yourself is crucial. Why? Put simply, it's because you might not know you're sick due to very mild symptoms and you could infect someone else. As infectious-disease expert Maria Khan, PhD, MPH, an associate professor in New York University's Department of Population Health, told POPSUGAR, "Infectious diseases thrive on network interconnection."

Dr. Khan explained, "If someone who is infected yet asymptomatic works out with a neighbor who is uninfected, they may inadvertently spread the virus. And if your newly infected neighbor then works out with another susceptible neighbor, the chain of infection is maintained. Social distancing is not working in this situation." Seems like common sense, right?

The reason you can work out with your family members is because you all have contact with one another in a shared, enclosed space, making the risk of getting the coronavirus the same if you all remain home. Experts, Dr. Khan said, treat the family as one unit because of that reason. Obviously, though, use your best judgement. If you're under self-isolation in your own home, don't join in on those workouts.

"What if you invite people over and you keep the suggested six feet apart?" you might ask. Dr. Khan said the risk of transmission in an enclosed environment is higher than in an "open-air environment." So, even if it is possible to remain six feet apart, there is increased risk if you're working out in an indoor space, she said. "At this stage of the epidemic, which is increasing dramatically in many US cities and towns, we have to err on the side of caution when it comes to social contact," she noted.

If you're wondering about outdoor workouts, Dr. Khan said the same advice applies — that it's not recommended even though being outside is safer. "Playing basketball together, or even running together, is not recommended for the same reason any social activity outside of the family unit is discouraged during this extremely high-risk period of time," she explained. "If an individual has become infected but is asymptomatic, they could pass the virus when in close contact to a susceptible individual." Though this differs from what experts have told us in a recent interview on running outside specifically — they said it's OK to run with a friend as long as you stay six feet apart at all times — you should follow the guidelines that you feel most comfortable with.

Bottom line? When in doubt, be safe. Even if a stay-at-home order becomes more lax, or if someone remains healthy during a 14-day quarantine, it's still important to, according to Dr. Khan, give social distancing a chance to work. "Many states have maintained that even after an initial period of sheltering in place, life should not return to normal immediately in order to . . . best reduce community transmission risk," she explained. That goes for working out with people not in your household.

The best thing you can do right now is listen to local guidance, contact your doctor with any questions, and wait it out. Do everything you can to manage your stress at home, and you can exercise with your friend via Skype or FaceTime, if you want. We're all for a virtual workout date!

POPSUGAR aims to give you the most accurate and up-to-date information about the coronavirus, but details and recommendations about this pandemic may have changed since publication. For the latest information on COVID-19, please check out resources from the WHO, CDC, and local public health departments.