Social Distancing and Running Safely

Can You Safely Run While Social Distancing?

We have been told to keep a minimum of 1.5 metres apart from others to avoid the spread of COVID-19 via contact with virus-contaminated droplets.

So when we read a study showing the potential for droplets to spread beyond 1.5 metres if a person is walking, jogging or cycling, it raised concerns.

But the study was published before it was peer-reviewed by experts to double-check the findings.

A cough on the move

The authors of the study say the 1.5 metres rule is based on people standing still. But when people are moving they found the droplets can travel much further and potentially infect anyone following behind.

Their computer modelling shows droplets released from breathing or a sneeze can travel up to 5 metres behind a person walking at 4 kilometres/hour (2.4 mph), and up to 10 metres behind a person jogging at 14.4 kilometres/hour.

What it says. People are better off walking or running side by side, keeping that 1.5 metres distance apart, or when in one line allowing at least 4 to 5 metres apart for walking, 10 metres for running and slow biking and at least 20 metres for fast biking.

Is this credible research?

The study, by a team of engineers in Europe, is a pre-print publication, which means it hasn't been peer-reviewed by other scientists and journal editors to check the research methods and findings.

In other words, the quality of the simulation could be anything between flawed and reasonably realistic. Without peer review we cannot know.

The study is based on a computer simulation, so it's a hypothetical study not involving human participants.

Like any simulation it is based on a long chain of assumptions, such as assumptions relating to specific environmental conditions where jogging takes place. For example, it doesn't take into account any impact from wind.

What should you do?

There are no grounds for this unchecked simulation to change any current advice or attitude in the community. The best course of action is to follow your local government guidelines and be prepared for changes to occur at anytime. 

Maintaining 5 to 20 metres distance when walking, running or cycling outdoors would make it almost impossible to exercise in some cities and would undoubtedly discourage some people from going out at all.

There is also the danger any such unfounded information to change people's behaviour could become an expectation. That could generate conflict and friction between people who think others are not heeding the advice to stay safe.

Advising people to run alone is also unnecessary and should not deter people from meeting up with their exercise buddy, if that helps their motivation, as long as it's inline with current government guidelines. 

Who to trust?

Stick to official advice and do not rush to make any new lifestyle decisions.

Governments usually develop their advice in consultation with eminent scientists and clinicians.

The best advice remains what the government and local authorities recommend. In Australia that means keeping a social distance of 1.5 metres. 

When exercising in pairs, such as running, then stick to at least 1.5 metres from anyone, including walkers and fellow runners. If a runner or cyclist coughs or sneezes, they need to make sure they cover their mouth and go even further away from anyone else.

As a consequence of current formal advice in our hometown we have found that running or cycling on narrow and busy outdoor tracks and paths should best be avoided because of the close proximity and the risk of touching or coming too close to others.

We have found that our best time for getting out there and avoiding the almost "peak hour" is very early morning, 5am. Not only are there fewer people around it kick starts our day in the most positive way. 

Physical inactivity during the COVID-19 self-isolation is a serious threat to people's mental and physical health. Maintaining or increasing physical activity is one of the most important coping mechanisms during the extraordinary conditions we are experiencing and if you or anyone you know is finding it especially hard, ask for help. There are many organisations we can contact for assistance, Australia's top 30 Mental Health Organisations are listed here.

Above all else, keep well, keep fit and healthy and if you are unsure about the guidelines seek information from the government and your local authorities. 

When not exercising wear a mask

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