Solo runner outside

Tips to exercise outdoors safely while social distancing

We’re here because we all lead active outdoor lives. Now’s the time to work together to learn new ways of being outside when and where we can.

While Health Canada is telling Canadians to stay at home as much as possible, they also say you can “go outside to exercise but stay close to home.” So how do you move outdoors in a safe way? We connected with Dr. George Farjou, Infectious Disease Specialist in Ontario, for tips on how get outside safely during COVID-19.

“Exercise supports both your mental and physical health,” says Dr. George Farjou. “We could be on physical distancing measures for many weeks, perhaps months, before they’re relaxed, so we cannot wait until we get back to our ‘normal’ everyday lives to do the activities that keep us healthy in body and soul.”

Important note: Always listen to the most recent advice of your local health authority, as things are changing fast. These outdoor tips apply if you: don’t have symptoms of COVID-19, have not been diagnosed with COVID-19, have not travelled outside of Canada in the past 14 days, or are not in a high-risk group (see Health Canada for details).

Keep your distance

When you’re outside, you should be practicing physical distancing (a.k.a. social distancing). Keep a distance of at least 2 metres away from others when you’re in public). “Exercising in crowded areas is not a safe way to be active right now,” says Dr. Farjou. Some outdoorsy ways to visualize approximately 2 metres:

  • 3 full-sized bike tires apart, or
  • 1 adult grizzly bear apart, or
  • Holding an adult ski pole out with your outstretched arm (if you could poke someone with it, they’re too close)

Heading outside solo (or with people you live with) is all good. Embrace a chance to be active with these household exercise buddies. Get your kids to bike alongside you as you run, grab your dog for a walk, or invite your roomie out for a relaxed bike ride. On tight paths or sidewalks, respect other people’s space – remember that 2m distance – instead of buzzing closely past.

Things you should not be doing? Activities that involve groups of people, like group rides, group runs, or even driving to a spot with someone from outside your household.

Two people with three full-sized bike tires between them

Keep at least 2 meters between you and other people – about the same distance as three bike tires.

Stay connected in other ways

While physical separation is a must, it doesn’t mean you can’t stay connected in other ways. If you’re a runner, pop in a single earbud to chat with your run buddies who are also running (but in other places). Many races, group rides and run crews are also creating virtual versions via Strava or Zwift.

Keep it clean

Before you head outside for a walk, run or ride, wash your hands by following the Health Canada guidelines. “Bring hand sanitizer with you,” says Dr. Farjou, “and avoid touching your face in public. Also set a time limit for your activities instead of loitering around for prolonged periods.” Some other tips:

  • Direct any surprise sneezes into your elbow (don’t spray them out into the world haphazardly).
  • No snot rockets, no spitting.
  • “Remember to stay hydrated,” says Dr. Farjou. Bring your own water bottle to avoid using shared water fountains.
  • If you need to push elevator buttons or crosswalk buttons, use your elbow, not your fingers.

When you return home, do the hand-washing routine all over again, this time with a dose of feel-good endorphins in your system.

Adapt your daily routine

City folks: we feel you. If you live in a dense neighbourhood, you might need to adjust your regular running paths or routes. “If you see a lot of people at the location you’ve chosen – don’t go there. Choose somewhere else,” says Dr. Farjou.

Time to adapt and overcome. “I’d usually run on the seawall in Vancouver,” one MEC staffer told us, “but I’ve totally adjusted my routes for now. Quiet side streets near my house make it way easier to physically distance from other people, plus I can just hop aside if I see someone else coming.”

Adapting your routine can also mean shifting the time you head outside. Early mornings or later evenings could be less busy in your area. Remember to stay visible with reflective straps or a headlamp, and stay aware of your surroundings (Aftershokz headphones allow you to hear the world around you).

Two people with a grizzly bear between them

Keep at least 2 meters between you and other people – about the same distance as a grizzly bear (not that you’d ever want to get that close to a grizzly bear!)

Dial down the intensity

“It’s important to adapt your exercise to this ‘new normal’ period of physical distancing,” says Dr. Farjou. “We must adjust our expectations to stay active, but also to prevent harm on a public health level.”

The North Shore Mountain Bike Association (one of the community groups that MEC supports) shared thoughts that apply to mountain biking and any other activity. “Being out on the trails is a great way to try and relax; it can also be a path to the emergency room, hospital, or clinic if you take a tumble,” says their president Cooper Quinn in a Facebook statement. “We just can’t risk recreational injuries right now.”

To ease the burden on Canadian healthcare workers and keep yourself safe, practice low-risk activity, dial down the intensity, ease up on the speed.

“Avoid very intense exercise that exacerbates underlying conditions like asthma or could cause an injury. We want to prevent trips to the hospital right now where many COVID-19 patients are being seen.” – Dr. Farjou

Know before you go

One of the Leave No Trace principles is to plan ahead and prepare, and that’s definitely the case now. Before you head out, Dr. Farjou recommends you “look up ahead of time to see if the trail or park you are going to is open right now – many of them are closed currently.”

Our community partners at CPAWS BC, shared that “in alignment with our health authorities, we are also asking that you and your families follow your provincial and territorial guidelines and don’t go to the parks.” Parks Canada, along with provincial parks in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and PEI have all issued statements around types of closures.

Just think: when we finally get through this, the parks, trails, campgrounds and outdoor places we care about are going to seem so much sweeter.

Love your local zone

As Health Canada is recommending, keep your activity close to home. All Canadian public avalanche forecasters have discontinued service in response to COVID-19, and search and rescue organizations are also highlighting the need for people to be extra cautious outside.

That said, close to home can still mean close to nature. Get to know the trees in your neighbourhood, the paths in your nearby park, and the signs of spring unfurling around you. One idea? MEC Leave No Trace Ambassador Taryn Eyton (who would usually be exploring backcountry routes) is instead taking this time to appreciate nature near home with her #naturephotoeveryday challenge on @happiestoutdoors.

“Many local parks and outdoor spaces are receiving less maintenance right now,” says Taryn, “and some facilities aren’t available. Remember to bring a bag and pack out all your trash, and check out Leave No Trace’s post for their advice.”

Oh – and if you’re tempted to take off to your cabin, or a small mountain or coastal town, please don’t. “An influx of visitors threatens not only to spread COVID-19,” says CPAWS BC, “but it can also overwhelm the capacity of smaller, rural hospitals. Remember, you may not show any signs of infection but still be spreading the virus.”

Two people, one stretching out their arm and holding a long ski pole between them

Keep at least 2 meters between you and other people – about the same distance as holding out an adult ski pole from an outstretched arm.

Active body, healthy future

Some things are outside your sphere of control, but within it, you know what to do. Moving your body, eating right and resting are ways you can look after yourself. Plus, ParticipACTION shares that exercise “reduces the time we spend dwelling on negative thoughts” – something many of us could use right now.

“I’d recommend you figure out a way to scale back, but still elevate your heart rate for 15–20 minutes, three to four times a week,” says Dr. Farjou. “My goals at this time aren’t to make drastic changes in my activity or fitness level but to at least maintain my cardiovascular health and keep my major muscle groups engaged.”

Use these tips to be outside safely. Walk your dog in a local park. Run around your neighbourhood. Cycle a new loop in your town. Do some stretching outside. Above all, take care of yourself and each other.

We’ll ride this out together.

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MEC Staffer

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