In this unprecedented time in our history, we have had to make many adjustments to how we work and play. With the COVID-19 pandemic, lockdowns, curfews, masks, heightened safety requirements, and staying at home have all become a part of our day-to-day life. However, the stress of these mandates that keep everyone safe can take an enormous psychological toll on us. It is easy to become sedentary and stay cooped up in the house day after day, but this is neither physically nor mentally healthy; this is why we need to get out of the house as often as possible to enjoy the change of scenery that the great outdoors offers.
Why the Outdoors?
While you can get vitamin D from eggs and fatty fish, sunlight remains the best source for creating vitamin D in your body. Just 15 minutes, 2 to 4 times per week of the sun will increase your vitamin D production. Not only does this energize your T-cells and therefore boost your immune system, but being out in nature helps to relieve stress and reduce the amount of cortisol your body produces.
The health benefits gained from outdoors makes it safer to interact with others outside during the pandemic. The CDC has stated that the risk of infection of COVID-19 is significantly less if you are outdoors instead of indoors; this is because the virus is spread through the air by respiratory droplets when people are speaking, breathing, coughing, or sneezing. In an indoor environment, these small droplets can remain airborne anywhere from minutes to hours. Outside, the air is continuously moving, which disperses and evaporates the droplets far more quickly. Therefore, you are less likely to breathe in enough virus-carrying droplets for you to become infected if you are outside.
Outdoor Activities and Gatherings
Now that we’ve established that outdoor activities are suitable for your mental and physical health let’s look at some ideas to help you better enjoy the outdoors while adhering to social distancing.
Around the Neighborhood
In most areas of the country, you can take a walk around the block or through your local park and still maintain adequate distances from others. However, it is always a good idea to wear a mask just if you come within six feet of another person. Bike rides are also a great idea as they allow you to get fresh air and exercise without a mask (in most situations).
Getting Back to Nature
If you live in an area with public parks or nature reserves, this is a great way to get outside and still maintain social distancing. Hiking nature trails will help to relieve stress and get you the exercises you need. If you live close to the beach or a lake, having a picnic for you and your family is a beautiful way to spend quality time. One suggestion, though: Remember to bring everything you need when you go on these excursions so that you don’t have to stop for supplies, which increases your exposure to others.
Gatherings at Home
Getting together with family and friends at home is a beautiful way to stay connected to those you love. Having a gathering inside your home is not recommended because of the limited airflow and the higher chance of infection. The CDC recommends gathering outdoors but has some suggestions for making it safe and enjoyable:
- Alert your guests ahead of time to let them know what to expect. Set up boundaries like face-mask requirements and social distancing guidelines for them to follow when entering the house and mingling outside.
- Set up tables and chairs outside that are at least six feet apart; this makes it easy for your guests to remain socially distanced but still have the ability to interact with other tables around them.
- Only invite a limited number of guests. Depending on the amount of space you have outside, you should limit the number of guests to ensure that everyone can comfortably remain socially distanced. It is also a good idea to have a copy of the guestlist for virus-tracing purposes if someone becomes infected.
- Have each group bring their food. Having a pot-luck setup with everyone serving themselves from the same dishes is not a good idea. Having each group bring their food can help themselves from their table and avoid infection from contaminated containers.
All of the ideas we have outlined above work in most areas of the country. However, as each state navigates through this pandemic, their guidelines for gatherings may change.
As of this blog’s writing, California has issued a Regional Stay at Home Order that prohibits private gatherings of any size. The State of New York has also recently updated its rules and restrictions. These are just two examples of how each state is independently handling this crisis. Because of the continually changing landscape of the spread of infection, it is a good idea to check your state and local COVID-19 websites before planning or engaging in any group activities. It would be best to stay updated on regional allowances and restrictions that need to be followed.
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