Outdoor Exercise Under a Stay-at-Home Order

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By News Team on March 30, 2020

 Gov. Ralph Northam has issued a "stay at home" order for the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Along with essential outings like grocery shopping and seeking medical attention, the order allows for “engaging in outdoor activity, including exercise, provided individuals comply with social distancing requirements.”
 
That is good news, as we are all seeking a respite from social distancing at home, and exercise is as good for your mental health as it is for your physical health.

But many popular parks and trails are overcrowded as a result, and being in close contact with others outdoors can easily undo all the hard work we've already put into social distancing to stay healthy.

What does that mean for outdoor activities like hiking, biking and playing at the park? 
 
The Governor’s order is clear:
 
"To the extent individuals use shared or outdoor spaces, whether on land or on water, they must at all times maintain social distancing of at least six feet from any other person, with the exception of family or household members or caretakers."

Six Feet Apart, at Least

Carilion Clinic Emergency Medicine physician Stephanie Lareau, M.D., agrees. She directs our Wilderness Medicine fellowship and is an advocate for exercising safely in the great outdoors.

Man walking on a pathway through the forest, standing beside a wooden hand rail.
Be mindful of outdoor "touch points," like this hand rail.

"Spending time outdoors is an excellent way to cope with the current stressful situation we all face," she says.

But social distancing still applies outdoors.

"Be courteous and respect people's outdoor space, maintaining that buffer of at least 6 feet between you and others," says Dr. Lareau.  "It's fine—even encouraged—to share friendly words as long as you keep your distance."

Avoid Outdoor "Touch Points"  

Touch points are those frequently touched surfaces that we reach for without even thinking about it. They include:

  • Hand railings
  • Trash can handles
  • Faucets
  • Picnic tables
  • Bench armrests
  • Playground equipment
  • Gas pumps and keypads

Carry hand sanitizer with you just in case, and regularly wipe down personal items you touch often, such as your:

  • Keys
  • Phone
  • Credit cards after you use them
  • Car door handles
  • Steering wheel

Stay Within Your Skill Level 

With extra time on our hands, many people might be tempted to attempt mountain biking or other new activities for the first time.

"This isn't the right time for new extreme sports or new endurance challenges," says Dr. Lareau.  

"Hospitals and rescue squads are currently working hard to care for patients with COVID-19, and responses to trail-related injuries take them away from this role." 

So stick to activities and locations you're experienced and comfortable with. 

family walking dog in neighborhood park
Avoid popular spots during peak times. Check out smaller neighborhood parks and trails.

Explore Small Parks and Neighborhood Trails 

Being on a crowded trail or in a packed park defeats the goals of social distancing.

"Avoid popular spots during peak times," Dr. Lareau says.

That includes popular hikes that our region is known for. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy is now asking people to stay off of the AT due to social crowding and overuse. And the greenways in Roanoke City will be officially closed as of Friday, April 3.
 
You may wish to keep an eye on local media sources for updates on any other outdoor closures. 

Keep it Local

If higher profile hiking trails are overcrowded, seeking out more secluded spots may seem like the logical next step.

But, Dr. Lareau warns, one thing you don't want to do is unknowingly spread COVID-19 in a more remote area that may not have seen any cases yet.

Even a quick restroom break or gas station stop could put you in contact with enough commonly used touch points to potentially spread the virus, even if you are not yet symptomatic.

So for now, the most considerate thing you can do is to stay in your own community, and enjoy outdoor spaces that don't require a long drive to reach. 

"We are fortunate in our region to have such a wealth of beautiful scenery," says Dr. Lareau.

"There is enough space out there for all of us to safely enjoy even while we have to social distance, as long as we stay smart about how we do it."

Stay Home If You Are Sick

And finally, the most important thing you can do is stay at home if you have any symptoms at all.
 
"If you are sick, stay inside until you are free of symptoms, including fever, for at least 72 hours," says Dr. Lareau. 

Carilion Clinic message saying wash your hands and stay home when you are sick

Visit CarilionClinic.org/coronavirus for up-to-date information about our response to COVID-19. Call our Community Hotline for general questions about symptoms, resources, guidelines and more,

COVID-19 Community Hotline
1-866-604-2873

Monday - Friday, 8 a.m - 5 p.m.

Do not call the Community Hotline to make appointments, or to request testing or test results. For information about COVID-19 and your personal health, talk with your primary care provider