Social distancing and self-isolation have become household terms as the COVID-19 pandemic rages on. Our government agencies encourage us to do our part by staying home and avoiding contact with other people. We are, however, also being encouraged to boost our immune systems by exercising outside and getting exposure to the sun. The current message from the BC government regarding going outside is as follows: “It is safe to go outside to get fresh air, walk pets, ride a bike and exercise while maintaining safe social distances.”
There is, however, a lot of confusion as to how to do this without increasing the risk of infection and causing the virus to spread. As such, I would like to share some of my own thoughts on how to do it safely so that those who have not been diagnosed with the virus can spend time outside without risking the safety of others and themselves. (*Note: I am not a doctor, so it's best that you take my thoughts with a grain of salt and consult with your family doctor as to what is your own best approach.)
1. Stick to household members as your partners. If going outside for a walk, run, hike, etc, if you need to have company in your activity, don't call on a friend or family member that isn't in your direct household.Even though you're outside, there is still a greater chance of one of you infecting the other if one of you is a carrier. People you live with are more likely to have already been exposed to each other, so going out on a walk together isn't likely to increase your odds of infection. I went for a hike with my husband and our house mate on a less populated trail at Buntzen Lake this past weekend. Alternatively, you can always go out alone, provided you feel safe enough if your neighbourhood. But definitely avoid meeting up with groups of people like running groups, hiking groups, etc.
2. Choose activities that easily allow for 2 metres of distance from others. We all know that sports in which close contact with others are to be avoided, but what outdoor activities should we look to in their place? Kayaking or other forms of paddling would be a good option. Cycling is another good option as it keeps you moving quickly and naturally gives you safe space. Hiking, snowshoeing or running can work too, as long as you avoid busy trails or busy times of day (i.e. weekdays, early mornings). Choose wider paths/trails or ones that allow you to give safe distance from others. Avoid stopping for a snack or water break in an area where other people are doing so or are likely to do so.
3. Avoid public washrooms. While we all know the drill when it comes to hand washing now, you are still better off using your own home washroom given the choice. It's impossible to know who has been through a public washroom and whether or not said people are carriers, so it's better to avoid using them if you can. If you're hiking deep in the woods, nature's washroom is probably a safer choice.
4. Carry hand sanitizer. Of course you should avoid touching public surfaces like door handles, railings, etc, but if you accidentally or unavoidably touch a hand railing or other public service, having a small bottle of hand sanitizer handy can help sanitize your hands afterward. Of course, be sure to wash your hands with soap and water as soon as you get home as well, as it has been established that it is a superior method for getting rid of the virus.
5. Do outdoor things at home. If you don't have access to safe outdoor spaces near your home, or if you’re in self-isolation, consider staying home and doing outdoor chores. It's the spring, so why not do some gardening? Plant a variety of herbs and vegetables that will help support your immune system and make it easier for you to get food without having to go to the store. Even if you don't have a yard, you can create a container garden that can easily thrive on a patio with limited space. Even if you aren't down with gardening, there are lots of other outdoor chores you can do such as washing your patio decks and furniture, cleaning windows, emptying gutters, washing your car, etc. You can even take exercise, such as yoga, strength training, martial arts, jumping rope, etc, that you normally do inside out onto your patio. If you have a portable under-desk bike or elliptical machine like I do, you can also take that out onto a patio to make it into an outdoor workout.
6. Embrace online accountability. If you're used to using training partners to keep you accountable to your workouts, consider using online groups or apps to help you connect with others who are doing the same activities. I know it's not the same as having a date to do that activity live with an actual person, but you can at least have some of the rewards you get from personal connection so you can virtually high-five each other for staying on course with your exercise.
7. Observe the regulations set by your local health authorities. Every area is being hit by COVID-19 differently. And because the virus is so contagious, it’s spreading fast. Pay attention to the news and make sure you’re fully up to date on the recommendations of your area’s health authorities so you can follow their regulations. These are in place for our collective safety, so please don’t ignore them, regardless of how healthy you feel. You can be a carrier without even having any symptoms.
8. Clean up when you get home. As soon as you get home, wash your hands with soap and water as this is more effective against COVID-19 than any hand sanitizer. If you want to play it even safer, take a shower and put your clothes through the a hot water wash in if they can withstand it, then dry them on high heat or, if not possible, hang them to dry in direct sunlight if possible. If you have a sauna that can reach a heat of 60C, use it too as research referenced on BBC News suggests that it will kill the virus, but only on the outside of your body, not if you’re infected.
I'm sure everyone has been finding their own ways to exercise outdoors safely now that the entire world is being affected. And in case you don't already know, if you know you have been infected with the COVID-19 virus, do NOT go out of the house. Stay home and self-isolate as has been recommended by all health authorities and in many cases legally mandated. Staying home is also advised for people in high risk categories, such as people with compromised immune systems. Do you have any tips to that might help others stay safe (and sane) by enjoying outdoor activities? Please share your thoughts and ideas in the comments.