Friday, May 1, 2009

Running Away From H1N1

H1N1, more commonly known as the swine flu, has been attracting increasing national media attention this past week. Even though we're runners with minds and wills of steel, our physical bodies are none the less mortal and therefore equally as susceptible to catching such viruses. We often run in isolation, but the combination of long runs, which can weaken the immune system, and time spent in crowded areas like the gym or races, where the chances of being exposed to such contagions is much higher, means runners must heed the advice of the medical community with special diligence.

First, to all you gym rats out there, beware! In the effort to maintain a healthy lifestyle, gym junkies in their natural habitat of fitness and health clubs everywhere are often surrounded by germs in vast numbers. If one really thinks about it, this makes sense. People wearing minimal clothing, groping the workout equipment with their sweaty bodies as they make strides towards their fitness endeavors, is not exactly the equation for optimal sanitary conditions. Though most germs are harmless, gyms are breeding grounds for harmless and pathogenic germs alike.

According to an ABC News study, areas that experience a high number of people in a short amount of time and thus are oases for germapalooza include dumbbells, bike seats, and weight lifting benches. Next time you use such equipment, think about both applying disinfectant to the equipment before use and washing your hands after the workout. If you have any open cuts or scratches, which are wide-open invitations for infection, be diligent by properly cleaning them and covering them up with band-aids prior to going to the gym. And, before you pick up that post-workout snack, remember to wash your hands.

But the area that was found to be the greatest germ hot-spot, as one might suspect, was that of the showers. Saunas, hot tubs, and steam rooms are also areas with high concentrations of bacteria, as their warm, moist environments are perfect breeding grounds for these microscopic creatures. In these areas, avoid going barefoot - instead, opt to wear water shoes or flip-flops. To anyone who discredits this idea as "fashion suicide," I must inquire, would you rather be a healthy dork or swine-flu-inflicted, barefoot fashionista? At the gym, we're not by any means walking the red carpet! Thus, the obvious choice for me would be the healthy dork...and proud of it.

Secondly, many runners know their immune systems are suppressed up to 72 hours following the intense exercise that constitutes many long runs or marathons. Although runners are healthier in the long-run, this period is an open window of opportunity for any illnesses. During this window, simply be careful (but not paranoid) about avoiding excessive hand-shaking or other contact that could lead to the transmission of contagion.

Sunday, May 3, at the Pittsburgh Marathon where a turn-out of 10,000 runners is expected, marathon officials will be keeping a close eye on any H1N1 symptoms. In addition, the Flying Pig Marathon (which, ironically, has little to do with pigs) in Cincinnati, Ohio, which takes place the same day, is worried about the misleading label of "swine flu" having a negative impact on attendance. The Flying Pig Marathon organizers are encouraging the expected 23,000 runners to maintain their participation because, according to the race's medical director Dr. Jon Devine, "The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention has not told travelers to change any plans. Because these running and walking events are held outside, and the crowds are not confined to one hotel or one inside area, the chances of coming in contact with someone who is sick are remote."
Thus, it is clear the outbreak of H1N1 is having an effect on runners. To track its spread, you can go to the New York Times' Interactive Swine Flu Cases Map. But there is no need to become a frenzied, overnight convert to germophobism! Basic hygiene is the best way to avoid this flu, as well as most other contagions that could put a damper on your training plans. One should be cautious, but not overly so. Combining our running speed with anti-bacterial soap, we runners just might be ready and set to go out-run this H1N1.

1 comment:

  1. Great post! You always find some of the best info.

    When I was on a team sport, doing hard workouts in close quarters with people every day of the week, I was sick all the time!