I hope everyone is staying safe and healthy during this difficult time. By now, Covid-19 has likely affected your life in some form or another. While we have to make sure to stay safe and follow the protocol laid out by our state, federal, and local governments, there are still creative opportunities to stay active. This wellness blog will give you some ideas to stay physically, socially, and mentally active while maintaining social distancing and environmentally conscious practices.
Perhaps now more than ever, spending time outdoors is important to maintaining physical and mental health. Spending time outdoors while hiking, biking, kayaking, or playing disc golf are some of my favorite physical activities to do. Since the social distancing protocols have been enacted, I've made it my goal to do one active outside activity per day. Over the past week, I've found myself adjusting to what this means to me.
With closures to many facilities and other sources of entertainment, I've noticed a huge influx of people spending time outside. This is evident from walking around my neighborhood, in addition to when I venture out to visit a local park. I believe parks and other open spaces have a crucial role and opportunity to provide to the public during these trying times. For some, this may be their first introduction to using parks or greenways. While it is awesome to see such large numbers of people spending time outdoors, I believe it is very important to encourage the use of these spaces in healthy and sustainable ways.
First, maintaining social distancing protocols while outside is vital. Please be sure to check your local guidelines/restrictions before venturing outdoors, and do not go out if you are feeling sick. NRPA recently released a joint statement on using parks and outdoor spaces while maintaining social distancing. When outdoors, we must still keep at least 6 feet away from people not in our immediate family clusters. Often, this can be difficult to achieve on crowded trails. To view NRPA's full statement, check out this link. In light of crowding, I've tried to use trailheads and parks that I know to be less busy than other more popular locations. If you know of any low use parks, trails, or outdoor spaces, now might be a great time to utilize them. Additionally, if there are any ways you can stay home while still getting outdoor time, this could be another great option.
While NRPA's statement covers the personal health impacts of spending time in parks during these challenging times, I believe that the environmental impacts of increased use are of equal importance. With so many people hitting the trails, our parks and open spaces may be strained to keep up with demand. First, increased foot traffic can cause major wear and tear on trails not built for the influx of visitors. Additionally, stepping aside to maintain 6 feet from other users sometimes means leaving the dedicated path, which can do major damage to the plants, soils, and animals on the edges of the trail. Furthermore, increased park use oftentimes means increased trash brought into our natural spaces which can lead to pollution, full trash cans, and negative interactions with wildlife. While these are just a few reasons on the impacts associated with more people outdoors, they can cause real long-lasting damages. Over the past few days, I've seen stories of crowding in National, State, and Local parks in addition to beaches, leading to temporary closures of these areas. With decreased staffing and facilities, I fear it is only a matter of time before other entities are forced to follow suit. In my view, the worst-case scenario of this might look like what happened to America's National Parks during the 2019 government shutdown, but on a local and state level as well.
To help our parks deal with increased demands, using Leave No Trace Principles are vital. If you bring any trash with you to a park, plan to take it with you as opposed to throwing it away while outside. If available in your area, used wide trails that do not require you to leave the path to maintain social distancing. Additionally visiting these areas very early in the morning, or later during the day may allow you to miss out on the peak visitation times altogether. If you are encouraging people to use your parks and open spaces during this time, please be sure to think about how leave no trace plays into the situation for your community.
In addition to physical activity, mental and social activity are very important to remember in times like this. I've heard that we shouldn't use the term "social distancing" but rather "physical distancing" because there are still ways to be social with each other! Last weekend, I had a virtual happy hour, board game night, and attended a virtual birthday party. Next up on my agenda include a Netflix watch party with friends, and virtually sitting around a campfire. The distancing has also encouraged me to check on friends I haven't talked to in a few weeks, and call my family more regularly than I would have otherwise. With technology, it has become much simpler to interact with people remotely. If you haven't utilized this technology in the past, now is the perfect time to do so. For more examples of people using technology during social distancing, check out this article from the New York Times.
I have also tried to keep up with mental stimulation while spending so much time at home. Some things that have helped me thus far include reading, working on a puzzle, cooking new recipes, and working on perfecting new tricks with my dog. I encourage you to find a new hobby, complete a project you've had on your list for a while, or learn a new skill if you have extra time on your hands. I find that this can make the time much more enjoyable!
I hope that you are able to stay safe, healthy, active, and in good spirits during this unprecedented time.
Until next time,