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A man jogs by a COVID-19 information sign in the Montreal suburb of Dorval on March 16, 2020.Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press

When 61-time marathon runner John Stanton wants to clear his head, he goes for a run. He’s been itching to do a lot of runs lately.

So have many other Canadians. The founder of Edmonton’s Running Room Canada Inc. says people have been racing to the running-gear retailer’s online store, while his 100-plus brick-and-mortar shops reduce their hours and cancel group runs. Digital sales have been up at least 25 per cent – a conservative guess, Mr. Stanton says – since last Thursday, when sports leagues and world leaders began suspending both play and travel, prompting much of the world to self-isolate.

All the isolation has been making people antsy – especially those who usually retreat to gyms or group exercise classes. “They’re now asking, ‘What can I do?’,” Mr. Stanton says. The answer: “'Well, I can still run.'”

As coronavirus shutters gyms, it’s important to develop an at-home workout routine

Millions of Canadians are now stuck at home amid layoffs and work-from-home orders, as governments try to quell the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. With many jurisdictions shutting down bars and restaurants – and other places where large groups gather, including gyms – Canadians are stocking up on gear to work out at home or on the streets.

Aydin Mirzaee has been working out nearly every day since 2002, going to the gym and running outdoors. The Ottawa-based founder of Fellow, a management workflow app, says it keeps his mind fresh and productive. On Tuesday, fearful that inclement weather might prevent him from getting outside over the next few months, he and his family did something he never thought they would do: They bought a treadmill. “It derails your whole morning if you can’t run outside,” he says. “Now we can make do and not go crazy.”

He’s hardly alone.

In Surrey, B.C., the Great Life Fitness Store has seen double – maybe triple – the sales it usually does, particularly for strength-training equipment. “We’re so busy we haven’t had the chance to calculate it,” says office manager and salesperson Michelle Grace. “We’re running out of a lot of stuff.”

Toronto equipment retailer Physical Assets is fielding endless requests for dumbbells and kettle bells. There’s just one problem hopeful new buyers wouldn’t realize: the store doesn’t even sell individual dumbbells. “It’s been a deluge of calls,” says owner Johanne Tummon, who usually sells bigger equipment, such as treadmills and stationary bikes, to residential customers.

But Torontonians have been seeking inexpensive gear to work out in space-limited condos and homes. “This happened so quickly. I don’t think anyone, even four days go, thought the gyms would close," Ms. Tummon says.

Many fitness-related retailers have been taking strong measures to ensure the health of their employees and customers in the midst of the demand. Gears Bike Shop, which has four locations in the Toronto area, has seen its usual April rush shift to March, with traffic up between 20 and 25 per cent. As cyclists are getting their bikes tuned up to hit the road instead of staying cramped at home, Gears has warned customers to minimize time and contact in its stores.

“We’re reminding people it’s not time to bring the family in and test-drive five bikes for an hour," says Ira Kargel, Gears’s co-owner. “We want to be able to sell you a tube. If you want to bring the family, let them stay in the car.”

Ms. Kargel says it’s important to balance public-health needs with the individual health benefits of getting outside. “We’re all in a mind space that this is not normal. But being outside with your family on a bike is very helpful.”

Health Canada has recommended staying two metres away from others where possible. Outdoor cycling and running offer plenty of opportunities to keep active while keeping a safe distance.

“Outdoor running is good for us,” says Running Room’s Mr. Stanton. With so many marathons cancelled, he warns runners to cut back on training and the immense strain it can put on the human body, and instead focus on shorter runs to improve physical and mental health. “If you stay strong and stay healthy, if you do get exposed [to the virus], you have a better chance of combatting it.”

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