Health 2020: The Yr in Train Science

This year, the novel coronavirus has crept into and changed every aspect of our lives, including our fitness. In myriad ways – some surprising and some useful and potentially lasting – it changed how, why, and what we need from training.

At the beginning of the year, few of us expected a virus to change our world and our training. In January and February I wrote on topics that seemed urgent at the time, such as: B. Whether low-carb, ketogenic diets compromise athlete’s skeletal health; If fat-soled, maximalist running shoes could change our steps; and how to run a marathon – do you remember these? – Reconstruction of the arteries of first-time riders.

By the way, the answers according to the study are that avoiding carbohydrates for several weeks in endurance athletes can lead to early signs of deterioration in bone health. Runners wearing super-padded marshmallow shoes often hit the ground with greater force than when wearing thinner pairs. and a single marathon makes the arteries of new runners smoother and more biologically youthful.

However, concerns about shoe padding and racing subsided in March when the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a pandemic and we suddenly had new concerns, including social distancing, masks, aerosol spread and bans.

The effects on our exercise routines appeared to be both immediate and stuttering. At the time, neither of us knew exactly how and whether to train under these new circumstances. Should we still be running, horse riding, and walking outside if our community had put restrictions on being at home? Did we have to wear a mask while exercising – and could we do so without feeling like we were suffocating? Were Communal Drinking Fountains Safe?

My first column on these and related topics appeared on March 19th. The experts I spoke to at the time firmly believed that we should try to stay physically active during the pandemic – but avoid shared drinking fountains. However, they also indicated that many questions about the virus, including how to exercise safely, remained unresolved.

After that, our experiences with – and the research about – Covid and exercise have snowed in. For example, a much-discussed April study showed that brisk walking and running can alter and accelerate the airflow around us and send expired breath particles further than if we were staying still. As a result, the study found, runners and hikers should maintain a social distance of 15 feet or more between themselves and others, more than twice the standard recommended distance of 6 feet at the time. (Subsequent research found that outdoor activities are generally safe, although experts still recommend staying as far apart as possible and wearing a mask.)

Another cautionary study I wrote about in June tracked 112 Covid infections in South Korea in Zumba classes in the spring. Some infected instructors introduced the virus to their students in cramped classrooms. Some students carried it home and infected dozens of their family members and friends. The quickest way to recover. But the history of the study was troubling. “If you work out in a gym, you are prone to infectious diseases,” one of the disease detectives told me.

Fortunately, other science about exercising was more encouraging in the Covid era. In two recent experiments with masked exercisers, the researchers found that face coverings had little effect on heart rate, breathing, or, after initial familiarization, the subjective feeling of difficulty in exercising. The movement felt the same whether the participants wore masks or not. (I use a cloth mask or neck seal on all of my hikes and runs.)

What is more surprising is that the pandemic has caused some people to exercise more, additional research has shown. An online survey of runners and other athletes in June found that most of these already active people said they were training more often now.

However, a separate British study provided more nuanced results. Using objective data from an activity tracking phone app, the authors found that many of the older app users got up and left more regularly after the pandemic began. But the majority of younger working-age adults, even if they used to be active, now sat most of the day.


Dec. 16, 2020, 5:59 p.m. ET

The long-term impact of Covid on how often and how we move is, of course, unexplained, and I suspect it will be the subject of significant research in the years to come. But as someone who writes about exercise, enjoys it, and hesitates with it, the most important lesson of this year for me was that fitness in all of its practical and powerful meanings has never been more important.

For example, in a useful study I wrote about in August, young college athletes – all extremely fit – produced more antibodies to a flu vaccine than other healthy but untrained young people, a result that keeps me training in anticipation of the Covid Vaccine.

More poetically, in a mouse study I covered in September, animals that ran were much better able to deal with unfamiliar problems and stress later than animals that had sat quietly in their cages.

And in my favorite study of the year, people who took “awe-inspiring walks,” intentionally seeking out and focusing on the little beauties and unexpected wonders along the way, felt rejuvenated and happier than unrepentant hikers afterward.

In other words, we can reliably find comfort and emotional – and physical – strength as we move through a world that remains beautiful and beckons. Happy, healthy vacation everyone.

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