2020 has been quite a year. Before this year, many people would have been aware of viruses—what illnesses they can create and how they can be easily spread.
But perhaps nobody was expecting a virus to dominate our lives quite in the way that Coronavirus (and disease COVID-19) has done. No matter where you are in the world, your age, religion or ethnicity, COVID-19 has affected you.
Ultimately, to combat a virus and disease of the strength of COVID-19 will need a vaccine. However, we have to cope and live with the virus now, and this article aims to explore how outdoor physical activity can help combat COVID-19.
This is not to say that outdoor exercise is a substitute for practicing government-approved COVID-19 health and safety measures such as social distancing, washing hands and wearing face masks, but rather, outdoor physical activity can help reduce your chances of suffering serious health issues from COVID-19 and can help you navigate daily life safely during the pandemic.
Outdoor vs Indoor Exercise
While of course in normal times all forms of exercise are encouraged, during a pandemic outdoor exercise is more favorable compared to indoor exercise as there are reduced risks of virus transmission.
Indoor spaces such as gyms and studios can by having a ceiling, walls and floors have surfaces were virus droplets can reside and thrive.
While many indoor exercise venues are slowly opening with COVID-secure measures such as regular deep cleaning and social distancing in place, the preference should always be outdoor exercise as social distancing is considerably easier and there are fewer surfaces for virus droplets to thrive.
Biological Benefits of Outdoor Physical Activity
One of the most obvious benefits of regular, intense outdoor exercise is the numerous physical benefits associated. Whether you are wanting to lose weight, tone, build muscle and simply keep active, outdoor physical activity is highly recommended.
During a pandemic such as COVID-19, the importance of outdoor physical exercise becomes increasingly important to ensure that your immune system is strengthened to cope with potential contracting a virus. While those who are regularly exercising outdoors are not immune to contracting COVID-19, the chances of fit individuals suffering adverse health conditions resulting from COVID-19 is certainly reduced.
Findings from the Centre of Perioperative Care (CPOC) in the UK found that less fit people with existing health conditions are five times more likely to suffer a worse outcome from COVID-19 compared to fit people with no existing health conditions.
Additionally, many of those who have sadly died or suffered serious health issues from COVID-19 are obese. Indeed, a study by the World Obesity Federation found that out of 10,465 COVID-19 patients sampled who were critically ill, 73.7% were registered as obese. The evidence points to advantage in combating a virus such as COVID-19 through being physically fit.
Outdoor physical exercise can boost your immune system as increases in blood circulation has an anti-inflammatory effect on the body. It is recommended that intense workouts of 30-minutes per day (or at least 3 times a week) will give your immune system that extra boost requires to fend off the serious health issues that can be associated with COVID-19.
Mental Benefits of Outdoor Physical Activity
Dealing with a pandemic is mentally draining. The effects of government’s restricting our daily lives such as preventing us from seeing friends and family, preventing us from eating out, preventing us from celebrating birthdays, preventing us from visiting the theatre or sporting events – it all accumulates into mental exhaustion that can lead to serious mental health conditions such as depression.
Despite these restrictions, one of the only aspects that were allowed during the height of lockdown was outdoor physical activity. This was an acknowledgement by governments of the importance of outdoor physical activity in benefitting mental health. Exercise is commonly known as a natural anti-anxiety treatment. Physical exercise is known for relieving tension and stress while also boosting physical and mental energy.
Through the release of endorphins, exercise can boost mental wellbeing.
Also, outdoor physical activity promotes the breathing of fresh air and visual pleasure of the countryside or architecture which promotes brain stimulation and pleasure, all of which are associated with boosting mental health.
Social Benefits of Outdoor Physical Activity
Most of us are likely to be fed up with Zoom calls and simply want to see people. As typical places for social gatherings such as bars, restaurants and theaters are likely to be shut, outdoor physical activity can present a rare opportunity to socialize and keep fit safely and securely.
Provided all participants are social distanced, going for a cycle ride with some friends or family, or doing an outdoor HIIT workout with everyone kept at least 2 meters apart, can be a great way to keep fit but also socialize.
The outdoor activity also can be done in a park where there is lots of greenery and accessible space. Also, if you’re just going for a run or a cycle, there is a very little monetary cost to participating in some outdoor physical activity and is therefore inclusive for all.
What Outdoor Activities Can I do that are COVID-secure?
While promoting outdoor physical activity is one thing, it is important to understand which outdoor activities should be promoted to combat a virus and disease such as COVID-19.
Below is a list of recommended activities that can be done regardless of any COVID-secure measures.
Running or Brisk Walking
Running or walking is the easiest form of outdoor exercise you can do during a pandemic. It doesn’t cost anything and is accessible to all. Whether you want to do a 5km run or 10,000 walking steps, these targets can be easily followed on a daily or thrice-weekly basis. If you want to run with some other people who are not in your household, you should maintain social distancing of 2 meters.
Cycling is another hugely accessible form of outdoor physical activity that can promote biological and mental health while also adhering to COVID restrictions. You can go for long 40-50km rides to test endurance or shorter sprint rides to build fitness.
Cycling also allows you to explore your local area while easily maintaining a social distance if you want to cycle with others.
Circuits / HIIT Workouts
A hugely popular form of exercise during lockdown has been HIIT workouts led by instructors on YouTube. These exercises can be easily conducted in your garden or a local park to encourage you to breath fresh air while doing intense exercise. If you want to do these workouts with friends, you can simply put your equipment at least 2 meters from each other and be sure to maintain social distancing throughout.
Golf is one of the most natural social distancing sports in existence. The sport’s compliance with COVID restrictions has seen a huge growth in the game in the last year. If you fancy a long walk around some stunning scenery while hitting a golf ball, golf is the perfect game for you. The one downside of the game is that it is expensive to get into, with basic golf club sets costing at least $100.
Other Sports Needing More Measures
Team sports such as football, soccer and baseball require more safety measures before you can take part.
Government’s will put in place various measures for an organized team sport and provided those measures are adhered to, there should be few restrictions on participation.
But like anything at the moment that requires groups of people to gather together, extra precautions should be taken by individuals before participating, whether that be washing your hands thoroughly or even choosing to not participate when you have COVID-19 symptoms.
Stay Healthy and Active in the Outdoors
Hopefully, this article has given you some practical advice about the benefits of outdoor physical activity in helping to combat a virus such as COVID-19.
The article has been clear to explain that outdoor exercise still contains some risks of contracting and transmitting a virus, however, the benefits of biological and mental health, as well as the ability to socialize, are crucial dimensions to combatting the serious health risks associated with COVID-19.
The article has also sought to explain the importance of outdoor physical activity compared to indoor physical activity during these challenging times.
The restrictions caused by COVID-19 which have forced people to work from home and reduced social gatherings can create a situation where many are stuck at home and feel unable or demotivated from going outdoors and doing any form of physical activity.
It is crucial to break this rut and do some outdoor physical activity the majority of the week to prevent the vicious cycle of negativity that can be created through a lack of physical exercise during a pandemic.