Outdoors: Benefits, Precautions

For years, medical professionals have urged people to get outside and connect to nature, because engaging in outdoor activities boasts many health benefits. As we’ve been cooped up indoors because of COVID-19 shut-downs, venturing outside appears even more enticing and enjoyable because it presents an opportunity for exercise, creativity, entertainment and social connection.

However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, going outside can seem risky or dangerous.  Now that public parks, beaches and businesses are gradually opening up as per state and local guidelines, you may be wondering how we can head outdoors without threatening the health of ourselves and others.

Government officials and health professionals recommend that people still follow social distancing guidelines and continue to keep their hands clean when heading outdoors. The CDC recommends that people wash their hands for 20 seconds before and after going outside (or bring along hand sanitizer if soap and water isn’t available), as well as avoid crowded areas and playground equipment.

woman and dog

In addition to boredom and lack of exercise, the pandemic, and the physical isolation required to combat it, also has serious effects on mental health. In an American Psychiatric Association poll, 36% of Americans say that the pandemic has had a serious impact on their mental health. People have started to utilize mental health services more frequently. Remote therapy applications like Brightside and Talkspace have experienced an influx of new clients.

Now more than ever, we need accessible solutions to dealing with stress and anxiety. Going outside is one of the best ways to simply relax and be happy. Walking in nature is effective in lowering levels of anxiety and depression because it leads to decreasing heart rate and lower blood pressure. Heading outside can even boost one’s immune system, as breathing in plant-produced chemicals called phytoncides can increase white blood cell count, which is healthy.

lake

People all over America have been organizing fun and safe outdoor activities to do with neighbors, friends and family. Neighbors have sat outside on lawn chairs to have conservations while remaining at least 6 feet apart. People in Brielle, N.J., and Lexington, Ky., have even organized weekly “happy hours” with friends in the neighborhood to laugh and de-stress outdoors while still following CDC social distancing guidelines. Exercising, walking with dogs or quarantine buddies, stargazing, and barbecuing are just some of the fun and relaxing activities you can do outdoors.

park biking

Philadelphia has many open spaces and recreation centers for local residents. According to Philadelphia Parks and Recreation, all the city’s athletic fields, trails and golf courses are currently open, and all visitors and staff must practice social distancing and CDC guidelines.

Fairmont Park, which is open every day from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., is currently hosting a variety of unique outdoor activities. They are offering hiking trips starting in June, and on July 25 there isa Forest Therapy Walk at the Horticulture Center. FDR Park in South Philadelphia (open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.) is a great location for bird watching, fishing and enjoying a picnic. The park hosts over 205 bird species, spacious lawns and convenient fishing spots.

The next time you find yourself fighting the indoor blues, head outside (safely!) to de-stress and lift up your mood!

By Melanie Kovacs, Drexel University Science Communication and Outreach co-op


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