Apr 14, 2020 8:00 AM

Author: Nick McGregor


How to exercise responsibly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Spring is in full bloom, with sunny skies, mild temperatures, and fresh flowers out in force. Yet thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic—and all the stay-at-home orders and physical distancing guidelines that go with it—many of us are having a hard time enjoying the outdoors.

Yet health experts say fresh air and exercise are important right now—for physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing. So how can we get outside and be active in a responsible and respectful fashion?

Keep It Local

The first step is to keep it local, says Britta Trepp, wellness programs manager for the Office of Wellness & Integrative Health at University of Utah Health. “If everyone drives to a popular park to run laps, things can get too crowded,” Trepp says. “Avoid busy trail systems and instead use your neighborhood to exercise. There will probably be less people—and you can maintain a safe distance from them.”  

In some instances, government officials have issued restrictions for certain outdoor spaces to limit congestion and overcrowding. Here in Utah, for instance, Governor Gary Herbert’s Stay Safe, Stay Home directive urges residents to “not go to or engage in activities at a state park located outside the county in which you reside.” Respect any closures and be a responsible citizen by packing out any trash.

Wear a Mask

The Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) now recommends that everyone wear “cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.” These kinds of cloth masks can help slow the spread of COVID-19 by limiting the spread of germs from the mask wearer to others and blocking large droplets from coughs and sneezes. 

This is especially important when exercising, as heavy breathing, coughing, and sneezing can happen. Trepp says that she still tries to run solo on routes where she won’t come in close contact with other runners. But just in case, she suggests keeping a mask or bandanna handy to put on when passing other runners.

Don’t Overdo It

Want to exercise responsibly? One of the most important things you can do is not overdo it. This is not a good time to get hurt—or to push yourself too hard. “Before the pandemic, I was training for the Salt Lake City Marathon,” Trepp says. “At first, I considered continuing with my 15-, 18-, and 20-mile runs. But I’m choosing to just do smaller runs and save those larger goals for later.”

In other words, choose quality over quantity. Trepp recommends a leisurely bike ride, stroll, or even time spent in the front yard, particularly if you’re self-isolating with other family members. “This is a great time to get back to family activities,” she says. “Lunge walks, weeding, yard work, walks around the neighborhood… The last thing we want to do right now is harm ourselves.”

Stay Healthy, Active, and Safe

Mental and emotional stress is high during a global pandemic. That’s why Trepp recommends taking it easy on yourself—and considering any exercise as a boost for overall health. “This is a great opportunity to offer yourself grace and work on optimizing overall health,” Trepp says. “If we’re exercising on a daily basis, consuming healthy foods, and getting enough sleep, our bodies will be the strongest they can be.”

Spending time outdoors is essential. Studies show that exercise, sunlight, and fresh air can boost overall health—physical, mental, and emotional. We just have to do it in the smartest way. “Getting outside is really important,” Trepp says. “We just all have to be careful to stay at least six feet away from each other.”

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