Social Distancing: Nature’s Time to Shine
To slow the spread of COVID-19, countries around the world now require citizens to practice “social distancing.” Many are confined to their homes for most of the day, with offices, schools, gyms, bars, restaurants, and public spaces closing for weeks. Daily lives and routines have been upended, and we seek creative ways to stay healthy—both mentally and physically—while we are home.
Meanwhile, nature persists, blissfully unaware of the threats humans face. In many parts of the East, it has been an unseasonably mild spring. Birds chirp. Buds pop. Bulbs protrude. The outdoors is one of the only constants in a world upside-down, and, public health officials encourage those who can to take full advantage—alone or with those you already share a space with.
“It’s more important now than ever to get outside,” says Dr. Stuart Harris, M.D., an Emergency Medicine Physician and Chief of the Division of Wilderness Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital. “We’re a species that evolved to not be locked in a box, so getting outside—even just for walks around the park or your neighborhood—is a huge interest for the short and long term.”
Even 20 minutes outside can lower stress levels, boost energy, and improve attention, as we outlined in our Winer 2020 AMC Outdoors cover story on the health benefits of the outdoors. Being outside can also lower our blood pressure, improve our sleep, and boost our immune system.
“We’ve found that the quality of air has improved [during this pandemic] due to the lack of [car, train, plane] activity,” Harris adds. “It’s never been a healthier time to get out, as long as you leave enough space between you and others.”
At AMC, staff want to provide members with as much support as possible. We’ve rounded up a list of tips and encouragement to help you be outdoors safely.
When heading outdoors, we all still need to follow public health guidelines. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) requires that everyone place, at minimum, 6 feet between themselves and others at all times and limit their time out in public to get food, supplies, or exercise. The extremity of social distance protocols vary from state to state, with some like New York, Massachusetts, and California advising residents to “shelter in place,” with limits on outdoors time to local walks or to run essential errands, like picking up groceries or prescriptions and visiting the doctor. Other states allow residents to venture out more. No matter the case, when outside, we should all be steering clear of others, and especially groups, and be sure to wash our hands regularly, cover mouths when coughing or sneezing (using a tissue or your elbow, not our hands), and avoid touching the face. To learn more, visit the CDC website.
While gyms, yoga studios, and fitness centers are closed, it’s important to make time for exercise, especially while working from home. Set aside some time during your day to take a break and head outdoors, whether just for a walk or run, or for something more creative. The outdoor fitness craze has grown in popularity over the years, so take a few tips from their playbook and try out some exercises in the back yard. Download yoga or workout videos from your favorite app and get a workout in at home, giving yourself a chance to reset before diving into the second half of your work day.
As tempting as it may be to head to your favorite mountain, doctors say don’t.
“While it’s critical to get outside and exercise,” Harris says, “driving in your car for two or three hours means stopping for food and can increase chances of spreading the virus. Luckily, we have enough green space close to home.”
AMC CEO John Judge echoed this recommendation on March 24, issuing a statement encouraging members to limit time outdoors to brief, local outings and backyard adventures, a result of reports of overcrowding in many popular outdoor locations.
If you live in a city and don’t have your own backyard, take a less crowded route to a local green space and remember to keep your distance from others. Be sure to avoid public transportation as much as possible, and instead make sure your destination is walkable.
Learn Something New
Spring is here, which means warmer temperatures, bird songs, and flowers. Download the iNaturalist app and help contribute to citizen science by uploading pictures of the plants and animals you spot, or download a bird call app to learn more about what birds living in your neighborhood. Thinking about getting into gardening? This might be the year to start; read up on what you can grow at home and set up a space in your yard.
A 2005 Italian study showed that just looking at photos of nature can help productivity. Take that a step further: Spend some time watching nature documentaries or reading a book if you can’t get outside—download Robert Moor’s On Trails to your e-reader for a different take on how trails are created, or learn about the Appalachian Trail legend in Ben Montgomery’s Grandma Gatewood’s Walk.
AMC chapters have currently halted all in-person trips until further notice, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t still ways to connect to your community. Starting April 8, members across AMC can join staff for weekly ‘Wednesday Lunchtime Learning’webinars, covering topics like Earth Day, Citizen Science, and trail maps. You can check AMC’s Activity Database for more trips labeled BeOnlineWithAMC. The Boston Chapter’s 20s & 30s Committee has set up a number of “virtual” gatherings, using teleconferencing services like Zoom and Google Hangouts to connect. So far, the group has scheduled virtual book club gatherings, weekly “campfire chats,” and naturalist presentations to help keep members engaged—just join their Facebook group to keep up with the latest listings.
It’s important in a time like this, with hourly news updates and near-constant discouraging reports, to remember that we will get through this. Don’t stop daydreaming about your next adventures and take this time to plan for them. Read about hikes you’d like to do, places to visit, adventures to try—share them with us, or with a friend—and look forward to when you can do them.
Stay safe, friends, and be outdoors.