Should I Wear a Mask While Running? Plus 5 Tips for Exercising Outside During a Pandemic

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With hourly news cycles and weekly CDC reports guiding us through the global COVID-19 pandemic, some uncertainties still remain. And though we’re all doing our part to stay at home and shelter in place, one activity has luckily held steadfast: the option to run outside, a freedom many rely on for their health and well being during these turbulent times.

But recently, the CDC guidelines recommend “wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies) especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.” And a study done by The New England Journal of Medicine reported that aerosolized coronavirus could remain in the air for up to three hours (yikes).

So does that mean we should be wearing face masks while running or exercising outside?

The CDC made this recommendation to “slow the spread of the virus and help people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others.” Basically, it’s to protect the people around you in addition to yourself. But when it comes to running, the waters are murky. Yes, your neighborhood block is considered a “public setting” but can you successfully maintain six-feet of distance between yourself and others? And can the droplets we produce through heaving breathing, coughing or sneezing spread even further while outside?

There’s a lot of conflicting information out there, some far worse than others. Perhaps you’ve seen or were sent the now-viral computer simulation that supposedly tracks the spread droplets made by exhaling runners, walkers or cyclers. But the Belgian team of scientists that released that graphic did so prior to publishing a peer-reviewed article or revealing any information on how the study was conducted or what these findings actually prove. It’s a frightening visual with scarce public research to back it up. As noted in an article by Vice earlier this month, scientists are still unsure how well the COVID-19 virus spreads through the air. “Many have cautiously speculated that the overall risk of transmission appears to be less outdoors. Globules and droplets do likely carry the virus, but that doesn’t mean that anyone who gets a droplet on them from someone’s breath is going to be infected. Transmission depends on a host of factors,” they say.

With all of these unknowns, the best thing you can do as a runner is to follow the CDC’s recommendations. If you're gearing up to run around your crowded city block, wear a nonsurgical face mask to protect yourself and others, and make sure you’re following the CDC’s guidelines for how to successfully utilize it. It should “fit snugly but comfortably against the side of your face, be secured with ties or ear loops, include multiple layers of fabric, allow for breathing without restriction and be able to be laundered and machine dried without damage or change to shape.”

Read more here for instructions on how to make your own or see some of our favorite shoppable options below. A neck gaiter or bandana is a great way to cover your face while running because they’re lightweight, breathable and moisture-wicking (there’s also warming varieties for when the colder months roll around). Per the CDC's guidelines, multi-layer cotton fabric is preferred.

To do your part and reduce the spread, here are five additional tips for running during a pandemic from the national running retailer Fleet Feet.

1. Know Your Route Before You Go and Be Strategic with Your Time

What is the total distance? What’s the surrounding area like? Is it a loop or an out-and-back? If you’re a nervous nelly, consider a loop or a track where you’re out in the open and visible to other runners (while still able to maintain a safe distance). And if you can, stick to a quieter area that doesn’t see a lot of foot traffic and time your runs strategically to avoid other people.

2. Keep Your Distance and Put Others First

Follow the CDC guidelines and maintain at least six feet of space between yourself and others. If you see another runner up ahead, quickly move to the other side of the road to maintain a safe distance. If you both need to cut through a small trail, slow down, move as far away as you can and let them pass.

3. Embrace the Solo Run

Large running groups are a big no-no right now. Enjoy this time to try running on your own. Listen to a podcast, call a friend or sign up for a virtual race. Do whatever you need to stay safe and motivated to move.

4. Keep Your Immune Health Top of Mind

Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds before you head out and once you’ve returned home and avoid touching your ears, nose, mouth and face. Hop in the shower as soon as you can for a full-body scrub as well.

5. Above All, Stay Home if You’re Not Feeling Well

This one’s pretty self-explanatory, but if you’re feeling off don’t push yourself. If you experience any of the confirmed COVID-19 symptoms, follow the CDC’s self-check protocol for what to do next.

Keep in mind, wearing a face mask is no substitute for social distancing and washing your hands, so be sure to continue to follow your local government's recommendations for safe living (and running).

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The information in this article is accurate as of press time, but the coronavirus pandemic is a rapidly evolving issue. For the latest information on COVID-19, we encourage you to check out resources like the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO) and your local public health department. This article will be updated as new information becomes available.

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Executive Managing Editor

Catrina oversees content production across all PureWow verticals. When she's not managing editorial schedules, digital issues or newsletter production, you can find her...