The Coronavirus (COVID-19) has had a global effect on how billions of people go about their daily lives. Many “nonessential” businesses, such as restaurants and bars, nightclubs, movie theaters, and performing arts venues, have been instructed to shut down for the time being. Schools across the country have moved to impromptu online instruction delivery platforms. Many beaches have been affected by either reduced hours of operation; some are closed entirely. Gyms and fitness studios, often seen as “essential” in the eyes of loyal patrons, are also out of commission. Even shopping for everyday essentials, such as fresh produce, rice, or toilet paper, has become a challenge.
While experts are still racing to find a way to effectively combat the Coronavirus, it seems that there are some key ideas they all seem to agree on: it’s going to get worse before it gets better and each person has the ability to protect themselves and others by making responsible decisions that not only limit personal exposure, but also limit the possibility of exposing people whose immune systems are especially vulnerable. We can all do our part to slow the spread of the virus by implementing some precautionary measures and by being attentive to not just our physical health, but to our emotional and psychological well-being. Thankfully, as long as your local community is not under a shelter in place order, riding your bike is a healthy way to get some fresh air and exercise that can safely be enjoyed, even with Coronavirus precautions in place.
What actions can I take to protect myself and others from risk of exposure?
More experts are encouraging everyone, regardless of age or health, to make some drastic changes to their daily lives in an effort to slow the spread of the virus. Limiting time spent in public areas, social distancing, and practicing good hygiene are the important measures you can almost immediately put into practice.
1. Only go into public spaces when necessary.
One of the best ways you can protect yourself is by making responsible decisions about leaving your home. While there’s no nationwide lockdown, there’s a reason why social distancing is one of the most commonly recommended methods of prevention. If possible, only venture into public spaces for doctor or other necessary health-related appointments, health emergencies, or to restock on essential items that are imperative to the health or survival of your household. When you do find yourself at the supermarket or pharmacy, work efficiently so you can limit time spent inside and shop in bulk so you can avoid having to take unnecessary trips.
2. Practice social distancing by maintaining a minimum of 6 feet between yourself and others. Whenever possible, maintain an even greater distance.
Ideally, everyone would have access to everything they need in their home, eliminating the need to leave their property. Unfortunately, some errands, such as doctor appointments or grocery runs, are unavoidable. When you find yourself in a public place with other people, one of the easiest, most effective ways to reduce the spread of the virus is to distance yourself from others. By engaging in social distancing, the practice of maintaining a personal distance of approximately six feet between yourself and others, you lessen your risk of inhaling viral spores.
“So, if spores are transmitted through coughing and sneezing, then can’t I just hold my breath when I’m standing close to someone?” Holding your breath as you pass by someone might seem like a logical way to avoid inhaling any virus-carrying droplets, but when dealing with highly contagious airborne illnesses, such as the flu or Coronavirus, it’s simply not enough because those droplets that are hanging out in the air eventually need to land somewhere. They eventually settle onto the surfaces of objects that are frequented by our hands, such as desk, counter, or tabletops; door knobs and handles; and handrails.
Research conducted by a group of researchers from MIT discovered that after sneezing or coughing, while the largest droplets that are emitted generally only travel two meters, the smaller can (and do) travel much further - a whopping eight meters, or over 26 feet. Even though it’s unlikely that you could get sick by someone who’s 26 feet away, the six feet requirement should be viewed as the bare minimum and everything that sits between you and the potentially sick individual should be considered “off limits.”
3. Practice good hygiene.
Because the Coronavirus is primarily spread through coughing and sneezing, incorporating a proper hygiene routine is critical. Even if you aren’t close enough to someone to risk inhaling the remnants of their sneeze, it doesn’t mean you can’t unknowingly touch an item that was just sprayed with their sneeze, putting you in the exact situation you were hoping to avoid. Frequent hand washing with soap for a minimum of 20 seconds. Antibacterial gel or wipes are an acceptable alternative if you’re not able to wash hands. You can even consider implementing a procedure for your household: leave exposed garments outside of the house, shower immediately, and then dress in fresh, clean clothes.
4. Take extra care of your immune system.
Because people with compromised or weakened immune systems are having the most difficult time overcoming the Coronavirus, it’s imperative that you do everything within your power to keep your immune system in good working order. If you’re not sure where to start with strengthening your immunity, consider starting at the beginning: nutrition and sleep. Nutrition and sleep are two of the most important contributors to a strong immune system and overall human health and also happen to be two facets of your health that you have a bit of control over.
To ensure that you’re receiving proper nutrition, take a look in your pantry and refrigerator. Your food sources need to provide you with a balanced diet of proteins, carbohydrates, and vitamins and nutrients. If you’re concerned that your food choices might be lacking in nutrients, you can either add some foods that will help compensate for whatever you’re lacking or start taking vitamins. Failure to fuel your body with what it needs will weaken your body’s ability to fight off all sorts of illness and disease.
In addition to having a nutritionally sound diet, it’s equally as important that you get enough sleep. In fact, research has repeatedly shown that adopting healthy habits that promote quality sleeping is one of the few ways to dramatically boost the immune system. Why? The simple answer is that most of the healing and repairing that your body has to do gets done when you’re sleeping. A recent study also revealed that sufficient sleep can also improve our immune systems in another way: sleep can enhance T cell functioning and responses. T cells are specialized immune cells whose primary function is to identify pathogens in the body, and then respond by attaching themselves to the foreign target and then attacking it. By adopting healthy sleeping habits, you are also improving your body’s immune system and its overall ability to combat disease.
So what’s a cyclist to do amidst these valid Coronavirus concerns?
Cyclists gotta cycle. With the proper precautions, a pandemic doesn’t necessarily mean you’re out of the saddle; it just means you’ll have to adopt some new habits.
1. Spending time outdoors is encouraged.
With so many people struggling with being cooped up in their homes, it’s no surprise that many are heading out to local parks, trails, and other outdoor destinations. There’s absolutely no reason why you can’t enjoy the great outdoors, as long as you’re following adequate safety measures. In fact, experts continue to encourage people to engage in healthy physical activities and spend time outside; exercise, sunshine, and fresh air have a profoundly positive impact on our psychological, physical, and biological systems.
The virus is spread by people, so even if you’re outside, you’re still at risk of exposure if you’re in a crowded area or close enough to inhale any airborne particles that could be floating around from nearby outdoor enthusiasts. The very act of being outside is not a preventative measure unless it’s coupled with social distancing.
2. Keeping your distance applies to cyclists, too.
The answer to the question that’s been making you lose sleep, “Can I still ride my bike?” is “yes” as long as your local community hasn’t been issued the order to shelter in place. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll be going for the same kinds of rides as before. Depending on the kind of riding you do, you might find that you’ll have to make quite a few tweaks before you can officially consider yourself “Coronavirus careful.”
Unfortunately, social distancing applies to cyclists. That means that you’ll have to take a break from group rides and will be limited to solo rides for the time being. Don’t even ride with friends, as there are some people who are asymptomatic, but still contagious. Yes, social distancing and isolation is difficult - especially for the extroverts and social butterflies of the world, but rest assured, there are three very good reasons for this: spit and snot.
The Coronavirus is a respiratory disease and is conclusively transmitted through mucus and other droplets that are most commonly emitted when an infected individual coughs or sneezes, which means it’s transferred through spit and snot. There’s a good chance you’ll wind up inhaling either or both of those bodily fluids at some point during your ride if you’re not far back enough. If you don’t inhale it, you still risk rubbing into your eyes or nose.
Don’t be afraid to change your riding plan. With so many people out of work and feeling cooped up, even moderately popular riding paths and trails can become crowded. If you head out for a ride and discover that other cyclists also had the idea to ride in the same area, simply change up your route. Riding away from traffic is always recommended as a preventative measure against being hit by a car, but it’s also an effective way to socially distance yourself from others who are out running, walking, or riding.
If you have the option of riding nearby gravel or dirt roads or mountain biking trails, it’s recommended that you take full advantage of those opportunities; dust off that gravel bike, give it some TLC, and get out there. Gravel roads are generally wider, so if you happen to encounter others ahead, it’s easier to keep a safe distance. No gravel bike? No problem: almost all road bikes can be made gravel capable by simply swapping out skinny tires for gravel ones. Consult your bike’s manual to determine the widest tires that can be installed. These tires provide greater traction and suspension and are more puncture-resistant. If you’re opting to mountain bike, stay away from popular trails that tend to get crowded, especially on weekends. Many single track trails have limited space to get around others and will force you to violate the social distancing rules. If you must ride these trails, try to do it during the off-peak hours and be prepared to change plans or proactively protect your physical space by stepping off the trail. Wear a neck gaiter so you can quickly pull it up to cover your mouth and nose when you see someone approaching.
3. Proper hygiene needs to be a part of your ride.
You might not be able to bring a sink and soap with you, but you can still be attentive to your hygienic needs by bringing antibacterial gel or wipes each time you ride out. You might not anticipate seeing anyone, but you never know who’s riding or what lies ahead. Don’t assume that because you’re hitting the road or venturing into backcountry, you don’t need to be on top of your hygiene. Use your gel or wipes as often as possible and refrain from touching your face.
4. Don’t compromise your immune system or physical health.
With nutrition and sleep having such profound effects on the immune system, it’s important that you take action to keep your system strong when you’re riding, too. The daily decisions you make should be conducive to keeping you healthy and safe, not put you in danger of injury or at increased risk of illness.
In addition to ensuring your daily nutrition is adequate, you’ll need to increase your food intake if you’re riding. Bring snacks, gels, and any other foods you know are effective fuel sources for your body. Bring plenty of water, plain or supplement enhanced, and do not share your food or water with anyone.
Your body requires healing from the daily stresses that it endures and sleeping is when it gets the job done. When you subject it to additional stressors, healthy or not, sufficient healing time becomes even more imperative. If you’re going to exercise, take that into account when establishing your wakeup time. Getting enough sleep should be a top priority.
5. Don’t forget to take care of yourself, too.
During stressful times, it’s easy to get wrapped up in survival mode. For families with children, it can be even harder to hit the pause button for some much-needed self-care. As more time passes in this altered state of life, the importance of being attentive to your body’s psychological and emotional health will become increasingly important, so make the conscious effort to schedule self-care into your day.
Since you can’t ride your bike during every second of the day and weather doesn’t always permit for outdoor fun, it’s important that you find other activities that you can enjoy inside. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying your favorite movie or indulging in a marathon of your favorite show, but instead of becoming glued to television, phone, and computer screens, engage in activities that are mentally stimulating, inspiring, or that will bring you a sense of accomplishment or pride. It’s a chance to do something new, something different, something you haven’t done before. Studies suggest that sedentary lifestyles and increased screen times have a negative effect on the overall psychological well-being of adolescents and adults. Complete some basic DIY projects that you’ve been procrastinating, do some spring cleaning, or finally read a book you’ve been itching to get to for the last three years. If you do find you that your only entertainment is a screen, watch a documentary, a “how to” tutorial that interests you, or take online courses or workshops.
It might seem excessive or unnecessary to take all these precautions, particularly when you feel like you only surround yourself with healthy individuals, but it’s imperative that everyone works together to protect not only themselves, but especially those who are most vulnerable to illness. If you feel cabin fever creeping in, opt for a bike ride instead of a crowded shopping center or packed park; being outside is only a safe, healthy option if you’re not close to others. Be aware of any shelter in place orders, as these measures are intended to protect your community; failure to comply could not only put others at risk, but might even result in a fine. As hard as it is to put a hold on some of our favorite social past times, we must remember that the choices we make today can determine whether or not others remain healthy enough to enjoy future tomorrows.As hard as it is to put a hold on some of our favorite social past times, we must remember that tThe choices we make today can determine whether or not others remain healthy enough to enjoy future tomorrows.