Gyms, pools and other fitness facilities may be closed to control the spread of COVID-19, but in most places, sidewalks and green spaces are still open.
And if you’re not sick, there are good reasons to visit them. Physical activity represents one of the best ways to keep your body healthy and to cope with stress and anxiety related to the coronavirus pandemic.
A regular exercise habit can add structure and routine to your days. There are plenty of ways to work out indoors if you feel safer that way. However, being in nature boosts your production of vitamin D, eases your mind and offers a safe way to connect with others at a distance.
As long as you don’t have symptoms of COVID-19 — such as fever, cough or difficulty breathing — walking, running or cycling outdoors can provide a welcome reprieve from staying at home, notes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Here’s how to work out outdoors, safely.
Why Exercise Now?
Besides stress relief, physical activity provides a wide range of benefits, including:
- Better control of chronic conditions, such as type 2 diabetes
- Better sleep
- Improved ability to do daily tasks
- Reduced risk of falling
- Reduction in depression and anxiety
- Stronger bones and muscles
If you’re at home more often now because of guidelines to reduce the spread of coronavirus, it’s more critical than ever to balance sedentary time with movement, notes the World Health Organization (WHO).
You can begin a workout program now, even if you didn’t regularly exercise before. The key is to start slowly and ease in to prevent injury and allow your body time to adapt. And if you were already active, you can maintain many of your old habits, with tweaks to stay safe from the virus.
If You’re Starting a New Exercise Habit
The government recommends adults get about 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity — that’s brisk walking or easy cycling — per week, or 75 minutes of vigorous movement, like running.
But if you’re brand-new to fitness, you don’t have to get there overnight. Begin with short amounts — say, a few five- to 10-minute walks. Eventually, you can increase to 30 minutes or longer of continuous motion.
At first, keep your intensity — how hard you’re working — to a level where you can breathe easily and even have a conversation with someone you live with.
As your fitness increases, you can add in faster walking or running intervals. When you’re breathing so hard you can’t say more than a few words at a time, that counts as vigorous physical activity.
Most people can safely start a new fitness regimen that involves light to moderate effort. However, if you have a condition like heart disease, arthritis or diabetes, consider booking a video visit with your physician first.
Staying Safe During the Coronavirus Pandemic
The basic safety rules around exercising still apply: Try to stick to places that are well-lit and well-maintained, and wear reflective clothing or lights if you’re walking, running or biking outdoors at dawn or dusk. Use protective gear when appropriate — for instance, helmets when cycling.
During the coronavirus pandemic, there are additional safety steps you should take when exercising outdoors.
When you can, stay close to your home or neighborhood. While driving somewhere far away to exercise might not seem like a big deal, you may have to stop along the way, increasing your chances of coming in contact with other people. You may also be exposed to surfaces contaminated with novel coronavirus during your travels.
Some areas have closed certain parks and other facilities. Abide by local guidelines related to closures and limits on gatherings. If you’re going to a park, check-in advance to see what spaces and facilities are open.
Look for trails, paths and roads that are less crowded and congested. Continue to practice social or physical distancing, even outside. Stay at least six feet from people you don’t live with when you’re walking, running or cycling.
Wash your hands before you leave, when you arrive at your destination and when you return. Carry alcohol-based hand sanitizer with you in case soap and water aren’t available. And the CDC advises that you don’t touch or use playgrounds, public water fountains or water parks.
Right now, the CDC recommends wearing a cloth face-covering in places where social distancing is difficult — for instance, in grocery stores or pharmacies. That doesn’t currently apply to open trails or outdoor spaces. However, check your state and local regulations for guidance on wearing face masks in your area.
Creative Ways to Sweat Safely
If jogging or cycling isn’t your thing, you can still be active in the fresh air. Gardening or heavy yard work also counts as outdoor physical activity. You can also jump rope or play active games with your children.
Right now, it’s best to steer clear of organized activities, such as basketball, baseball, soccer or football, the CDC recommends. These sports are played in shared spaces, with people who don’t live together moving in close proximity. Temporarily sitting out decreases your chances of catching novel coronavirus yourself or spreading it to others.
When to Stay Home
Don’t visit parks or exercise outside if you have symptoms of COVID-19, including fever, cough, fatigue or trouble breathing. Instead, stay home, call your doctor and follow instructions on seeking care.
Also stay home if you were exposed to COVID-19 in the previous two weeks, are sick with another illness or just don’t feel well in general.
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