The Benefits of Outdoor Running in the Year of COVID-19

By: Vincent Brinas, PT, DPT, Barnabas Health Ambulatory Care Center

Exercise has become a conundrum as fitness centers and indoor sports have largely been put on hold during the time of Coronavirus (COVID-19). The formidable rows of treadmills once occupied now sit idly with not a drop of sweat as they have transformed into an endangered species.

During these periods of social distancing and restrictions, a rise in outdoor running has emerged. People are venturing through their local neighborhoods and parks, tracking their progress on their fitness apps and monitors, and seeking a new found appreciation for the natural world. As we see a resurgence in outdoor activity throughout all age groups, it is important to showcase running in order to promote overall health and wellness. If you have recently started to run or are still at the starting line, then here are a few potential benefits or reminders to be aware of:

Social Distance and Masks: The year of COVID-19 means to practice social distancing and to wear masks in public and crowded settings in order to reduce the spread of the virus. The dangers of the virus stem from its ability to infect others silently as people may or may not have symptoms once they contract COVID-19.

When running, it is important to choose routes and trails that are limited of people and allow for space to socially distance. If encountering others or running in crowded environments, then it is recommended to wear a mask.

There have been subjective complaints towards running with masks as it affects people's breathing, performance, and perception of decrease oxygen saturation levels. Dr. Tom Lawton, an ICU physician in the United Kingdom, dispelled the notion of lowered oxygen levels by running with a mask for 8-14 miles. Using a pulse oximeter, his oxygen levels never dipped below 98%, which is considered normal. Safety while running not only includes avoiding injury, but to protect yourself and others from spreading the virus through proper precautions.

Cardiovascular Health: There is an established acceptance that physical activity has numerous health benefits. In regards to running, research has shown runners have an overall reduced risk to cardiovascular and all-cause mortality. Even leisure runners, who run for 5-10 mins/ day or < 6mph, have a significantly reduce risk compared to sedentary individuals or never-runners. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommend 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic activity to maintain overall health, disease prevention, and quality of life. These guidelines allow for flexibility, ensuring potential health benefits for consistently brief to lengthy runs based on your goals and fitness regimen.

Joint Health: Osteoarthritis (OA) is a type of arthritis affecting the cartilage of joints such as the hip or knee, which can lead to pain and limited functional mobility. Recreational runners have been shown to have lower incidences in OA compared to those who are sedentary. People who have less years of running (< 15 years) also have shown to have lower rates of OA compared to the same population. This is an indication that recreational running may lead to lower association to OA, even if you have only been recently exposed to the sport.

Vitamin D: Vitamin D deficiency is prevalence throughout the United States affecting up to 36% to 57% of adults. It is an essential vitamin that is required in order for your body to absorb calcium. Low levels of vitamin D have been linked to acute muscle weakness, joint/ bone pain, and fatigue as well as increase risks of osteoporosis, immune deficiencies, chronic fatigue syndrome, and fibromyalgia. There have also been recent observational studies showing that people with vitamin D deficiencies are twice as likely to test positive for COVID-19; however, results do not necessarily lead to a direct causation.

One solution to addressing the prevalence of vitamin D deficiency for a majority of us is simple, readily available, and free; it's the sun. A modern lifestyle indoors and environmental factors have limited our exposure to sunlight. Running outdoors can be beneficial for adequate vitamin D absorption, which can impact overall athletic performance.

There are numerous other health benefits on outdoor running as well as alternatives to aerobic fitness such as walking, hiking, cycling, and swimming. You just have to take one step outside and start your journey because as Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “in the presence of nature, a wild delight runs through the man, in spite of real sorrows.”

If you are concerned about starting a running program or have a possible running-related injury/ health concerns, then please consult your primary care physician or physical therapist for a consultation. To schedule an appointment with us, please call 973-322-7500

Helpful Links

Considerations for Wearing Masks

Doctor Runs 22 Miles with Face Mask to Prove They Don't Impair Oxygen Levels

Leisure-Time Running Reduces All-Cause and Cardiovascular Mortality Risk

American Heart Association Recommendations for Physical Activity in Adults and Kids

The Association of Recreational and Competitive Running with Hip and Knee Osteoarthritis: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis

The Effect of Abnormal Vitamin D Levels in Athletes

Association of Vitamin D Deficiency and Treatment with COVID-19 Incidence

Vincent Brinas, PT, DPT

Doctor of Physical Therapy

E-mail: Vincent.Brinas@rwjbh.org

Vincent is a physical therapist at the Barnabas Health Ambulatory Care Center. He primarily treats general orthopedics and specializes in vestibular, concussion, and rehabilitation for runners. He completed his bachelor's degree in health sciences and his doctorate in physical therapy at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia in 2016. He is an avid recreational runner, participating in races throughout the country such as the Norvo Nordisk New Jersey Marathon, Tunnel to Towers Tower Climb NYC at One World Observatory, and the Red Bull 400 in Utah, Michigan, and Whistler, Canada. On his days off, Vincent enjoys watching foreign and independent films, cooking cuisines from different countries, or hiking throughout the Tri-state area.

The Saint Barnabas Medical Center Rehabilitation centers are open and ready to help you achieve your goals. With four locations in West Orange, Millburn and Livingston, the experienced and compassionate staff at Saint Barnabas Rehabilitation offers adults and children the specialized care they need to resume an active life after surgery, injury or illness. They are committed to providing patients with the most advanced services in a safe, caring and soothing environment. For high-risk patients who are unable to visit in person, telehealth is an option. Patients do not need a prescription for physical therapy services.