When I started my 30-day challenges in January, the world felt a little bit different. I imagined 2020 being a year of personal and professional growth. Everything seemed to be lining up perfectly, heck even the new Fast and the Furious movie was coming out on my birthday. But slowly, the coronavirus started to fill up the news; more people were sick, more people were dying. And now, with the United States on track for at least 100,000 deaths, everything else seems so much smaller.
And while I wasn’t as successful during the month of the challenge itself, I’ve recognized how significant these 30-day challenges would be for me during the coronavirus quarantine: I’m finding myself meditating and practicing deep breathing techniques while stressed, and I’ve finally set up a morning routine that works for my wife and me to give myself some structure.
For March, I planned on getting 11,000 steps a day. I didn’t quite make it there, but I learned to appreciate being outside a lot more now that we’re stuck inside all day. That’s why, for this challenge, I must emphasize the importance of outdoor exercise during the coronavirus quarantine.
The Challenge: 11,000 Steps A Day
I woke up early, unplugged my Apple Watch, and took my dog out for a longer than usual walk. My wife was still working at the office, so I scheduled my day around three longer walks: one around the park, one around the neighborhood, and one around our condo complex. All total: 9,000 steps.
If I included my normal indoor walking/pacing throughout the afternoon, I broke 11,000 steps easily.
And for the first few days of March, I successfully cracked 11,000 every day the first week. And then my anxiety started to take over: I felt chest pains throughout the day, I didn’t want to move off the couch (thanks Xanax), and I worried that just being outside would put me at risk for coronavirus.
My office moved to work from home in the middle of the month, our governor issued a stay-at-home order, and the sirens in our Northern Virginia neighborhood continued throughout the night.
More than anything else, I was paralyzed by fear: scared about my parents who both have had health issues over the past couple of years, afraid for my friends who struggled with loneliness in the past, and scared for my wife and I’s lives. I didn’t want to get up; I didn’t want to write. I took more Xanax in two weeks that I had in the past year.
And then something changed. After numerous conversations with Rachel and an appointment with my psychiatrist, I recognized that even though the circumstances had changed, my behavior of staying inside all day on the couch was no different than my depressive state behavior.
I needed to make a change. And quickly.
A New Look
Remember those chest pains I mentioned earlier? Yeah, so not knowing what that was freaked me out more than anything else. I attributed it to stress, anxiety, and possibly being sick. But then I remembered the chest pains started in December after a nasty sinus infection, continued through the end of January in Buffalo, and stuck with me. So instead of being frozen in place, not knowing what was wrong, I decided to get off my ass and do something.
And Rachel was sick of me complaining anyways.
So after a quick virtual appointment with the doctor, I picked up my new inhaler from the pharmacy. As a side note, let me tell you that there is probably no worse time to have asthma as I was questioned all about my symptoms at the pharmacy. I understand why everyone is more stressed out than average, but I found myself stuttering as I tried to explain I was sick in December and January, and then I just paid for my medicine and ran away to avoid making things more awkward.
Only a few days into my cycle, the quality of my daily life has improved so much already. The hourly chest pains have disappeared, and my anxiety has lessened. Today, I woke up ready to take on the world. All I need to do is figure out how to exercise outdoors during the coronavirus quarantine.
Stay at Home Order
Although many states across the country have issued a stay at home orders, many of the governors have still emphasized the importance of getting enough outdoor exercise during the coronavirus quarantine. That being said, more information is being released about the transmission of coronavirus every day, so you should do your best to keep an eye out for the latest news regarding outdoor exercise.
Whereas some countries like Italy and Spain have told people not to go outside at all, America still has told people that it’s safe to go out and exercise as long as you maintain a six-foot separation between people. Each state also has issued different rules on where you can go during the quarantine: California has closed access to vehicles at all of their state parks, while Virginia has kept their parks open but shut down any restrooms, visitor centers, and other indoor facilities.
One of the issues being faced in light of the coronavirus outbreak is that large numbers of people are gathering at state parks, disregarding the six-foot distance rule, and making government leaders enforce stricter policies towards closing outdoor locations. Remember, the more social distancing we do (even outdoors), the more we are flattening the curve. That’s what is essential right now.
So how do we maintain social distancing while also making sure we get the outdoor exercise that we need? It might be time to get creative.
State Parks and Trails
So state parks are still open, but that doesn’t mean you should immediately head over to your local trail and start exercising. In an interview with ESPN, Lauren Sauer, director of critical event preparedness and response at Johns Hopkins, said, “Look for the least populated places … if you have to get out of the house and do something like walk your dog or go for a hike. If you get to the trail and there’s a ton of people on it, go to a different trail or skip it that day.” Sauer further explains that the way coronavirus spreads is through the droplets we spread via coughing, sneezing, and even talking. That’s why it’s so essential to keep six feet apart from folks; otherwise you risk getting yourself sick.
This also means DON’T GO TO THE BEACH. Seriously, we’ve all seen the Twitter pictures of people in Florida and Virginia Beach the past few weekends. Stop. Don’t go.
That being said, if your normal trails are often empty, or if you go early in the morning when the parks are usually quiet, it’s okay to walk your dog or go for a hike. Even though you won’t be near people, there’s still something incredibly energizing about being a part of nature, especially if everything feels a little quieter.
Before heading out, though, check with your local state guidelines about park usage as each state currently has different restrictions on park access.
Walk around your neighborhood
Now might be the perfect time to take a long walk through your community. I know right now, my outdoor exercise during the coronavirus quarantine is usually whatever walking I do with my dog. She’s an Icelandic Sheepdog, so she loves long walks and it’s perfect as we’ve gotten to travel through different neighborhoods and walk past businesses we are excited to visit once our stay at home orders end.
One caveat Sauer wants people to know, though, is that it’s essential to watch out for your dog as well. “If you’re walking your dog in your neighborhood, you want to keep that 6 feet apart. Try not to pass directly. Try not to touch other people and even keep your animals apart. You don’t want to get up close to someone with your animal because they could get something on them or transmit themselves. We don’t understand how this even works in animals. So we want to keep the animals separated as well,” said Sauer.
Walks are one of the most healthy, relaxing activities you can participate in. Use this time to download some good audiobooks or podcasts and wander through your nearby neighborhood. Take your favorite four-legged friend outside and breathe in some of that fresh air.
Outside of being more appreciative of our doctors, nurses, EMTs, grocery store employees, and truckers, another great lesson from the coronavirus quarantine are never to underestimate the power of human ingenuity. Companies are quickly developing new rapid virus testing, building ventilators at a fast pace, and testing out new medications. And like so many others in the country, exercise aficionados are finding ways to get fit while being creative too.
Take, for example, Elisha Nochomovitz, a 32-year-old furloughed restaurant worker who ran an entire marathon on his 23-foot long balcony. Or what about Matt Fleming, a laid-off sous chef, who has taken up riding his bike through neighborhoods yelling messages at people stuck in their homes for an income. People who love the outdoors and hate being stuck inside are finding new ways to get their exercise fix in.
Maybe it’s time to bust out some cones and try the backyard NFL Combine challenge or even try to complete a front yard marathon yourself. It doesn’t matter as long as you’re outside, six feet away from anyone, and having fun. We’re going to be here a while, so you might as well get a little wild.
While I didn’t complete hitting my 11,000 steps a day goal, I did spend more time outdoors than I usually did. And during this time of crisis, I’ve recognized the importance of outdoor exercise right now.
As for staying sane while stuck indoors, it’s hard, and I understand. It’s also crucial to find ways to be outside, and thankfully spring is here, so the weather is beautiful. Use this time to take a nice walk around your neighborhood or go on a bike ride at a nearby trail. Our mental health and physical health are just as important.
Stay safe, everyone.
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