Enjoying outside responsibly while protecting those around you during social distancing.

Enjoying outside responsibly while protecting those around you during social distancing.

NOTE: These suggestions for exercising outdoors during coronavirus are that only: suggestions. Always check with your state and local government orders before traveling anywhere during the COVID-19 outbreak, even a park in the next neighborhood over.

With U.S. residents under orders to stay at home to help flatten the curve of the COVID-19, people are asking if it’s OK to go outside for activities like hiking, running or biking? In many cases, public health officials say the answer is yes—as long as you’re not sick, adhere to local orders, practice social distancing and common sense. Mandatory stay-at-home orders often allow exceptions for engaging in activities outdoors, generally close to home, like walking your dog, riding a bike or going on a run. Whatever you do outside, practice social distancing, which means keep at least 6 feet away from others to avoid contracting or spreading the virus, the CDC says.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID-19 is thought to spread easily and mainly person to person:

  • Between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet);
  • Through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

For example, if you’re running a few feet behind someone on a windy day and they turn and sneeze, that sneeze could land on you. You just have to be smart about it and take the environment into account.” New York state guidelines, for example, allow for outdoor recreation, though “individuals should … avoid activities where they come in close contact with other people.” California officials say residents “can walk, run, hike and bike in their local neighborhoods as long as they continue to practice social distancing of 6 feet.” But they specifically tell people to avoid crowded trails and parking lots.

"I am encouraging people to get outside in this time of social distancing, but being smart about it," says Dr. Sean O’Leary, a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Committee on Infectious Diseases and a pediatric infectious disease specialist with Children’s Hospital Colorado.

Six tips to get outside while social distancing:

Check specific guidelines in your community.

First and foremost, understand the rules for where you live. Guidelines and trail closures, are changing rapidly. The following information was accurate at the time of publication but may have since changed, so please double check with your local public health agency and public land managers for the latest information. For example:
 California, New York, Oregon, Illinois, New Jersey, Washington and other states that have issued mandatory orders for residents to stay at home, have made certain exceptions for engaging in outdoor activities such as walking, running or biking as long as people maintain social distancing.

Florida, Oregon and other communities have shuttered parks, trails or other recreation areas to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and reduce the crowds seen in recent days that have made social distancing difficult. Federal officials have closed Yellowstone, Great Smoky Mountains and other national parks.

Stay local, avoid crowded places

Some states or communities have closed parks, trails and campgrounds and discouraged people from traveling to popular recreation spots. However, if one follows the CDC guidelines, its still possible to get a dose of fresh air close to home by exploring open spaces in your own community.

Be responsible and avoid popular parks that typically attract a lot of people. Crowded parking lots, beach access points or trailheads make it hard to stay 6 feet from others. Also, it’s important to remember, traveling to recreational spots could mean stopping for gas or bathroom breaks along the way, potentially putting you and others in those communities at risk. So again, it’s best to use common sense and stay close to home.

Go solo (or only with your household)

Although adhering to the CDC’s social distancing guidelines means group hikes or playing team sports are out, in many cases, you may still have the freedom to explore your local wild trails alone or take a solo bike ride around your neighborhood.

"Outdoor recreation is a solitary recreational exercise," New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Friday in announcing his state’s restrictions. "It’s running. It's hiking. It's not playing basketball with five other people."

"If you have no medical reason not to exercise and are not sick including with mild (upper respiratory infection) symptoms, then yes you should definitely exercise," says Dr. Mark Harrast, a sports medicine physician and medical director of the Sports Medicine Center at the University of Washington’s Husky Stadium.

Practice excellent hygiene

Before, during and after spending time outdoors, follow CDC guidelines to protect yourself from COVID-19, including washing your hands often and avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth.

  • Avoid touching surfaces and touching your face while out. Do not touch park benches, pull-up bars,
 park bathroom sinks and buttons for crosswalks with your hands.
  • Carry hand sanitizer with you.
  • Avoid drinking from public water fountains.
  • Wash your hands when you get home.

Exercise at less popular times

Avoid times outdoors when typically lot’s of people are out. Best times are early morning or later in the evening when roads or paths are empty. The National Recreation and Park Association recommends: "Warn other trail users of your presence and as you pass to allow proper distance and step off trails to allow others to pass, keeping minimum recommended distances at all times."

Don’t linger

Getting exercise outside is often considered an essential activity under these orders, the idea is to stay at home as much as possible—not to plan a day outing.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio on Sunday acknowledged the need to get outside and get exercise, but he urged people to keep it short. “It’s absolutely normal and human to want to get outside, get a little bit of exercise. But I remind you the pause is all about social distancing. It’s all about protecting ourselves and our families and each other,” de Blasio said during a press briefing Sunday. “When we say you can go out for some exercise, we’re not saying you can make a day of it. We’re saying go out, get a minimum amount of exercise, get what you need and go back indoors.”

Getting outside can be as simple as taking a stroll alone or with your family around your neighborhood. “At this time, walking is a wonderful exercise that people can do safely outside as long as you can stay 6 feet from others,” says Dr. Rosenberg.  “Physical activity has innumerable health benefits including when performed outdoors,” she says. “It improves mood, reduces anxiety, improves cardiovascular health and supports functional health. You also can have a chance to smile and wave at your neighbors from a safe distance.”

Additional Reading:
What exactly is ‘social distancing?’ Hint: You are allowed to go outside. - UCHealth
How to spend time outside while social distancing - REI Co-Op
Exercising outside during self quarantine: The do's and don'ts - CNET
What you need to know about exercising outdoors during the coronavirus outbreak - John Meyer, The Denver Post

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