Spending Time Outdoors during COVID-19 Pandemic
Written by Dawn Murray
March 30, 2020

Remaining in the same environment every day can lead to feeling bored, tired, or unmotivated. With just a few minutes a day, going outside can improve your mental and physical well-being and help you take on any challenge. Here are a few reasons to get outside each day.

Immune Boost: A recent study published in Scientific Report by Georgetown Medical Center proposed that exposure to sunlight may strengthen your immune system. Researchers suggest that the visible, blue-light from the sun might trigger critical immune cells and increase their motility.

Stress Reduction: Are you feeling overwhelmed?  Research shows that even a five-minute nature fix helps lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

Positive Mental Attitude: One study found that more frequent exposure to natural elements correlates with lower feelings of depression, greater workplace satisfaction, and commitment. Furthermore, a brisk trip outside boosts your mood and increases your creativity, which can come in very handy.

Better Sleep: A study conducted by St. Louis University demonstrated the power of natural sunlight to help set your body’s internal clock to signal when you need to eat and sleep.

Improved Energy: Studies show that people who connect with nature tend to feel more energized and revitalized.

As you can see, spending time outdoors is good for both your physical and mental well-being!  That said, during the COVID-19 Pandemic caution needs to be exercised.  Getting out and enjoying nature during this time can still be done as long as everyone follows the local government guidelines.

1. Stay within about 50 miles of your home so that you can avoid stopping for gas, snacks, restroom breaks, etc., none of which allow for social distancing - running essential errands in your neighborhood is one thing - errands that result from traveling to a hike for fun are not essential.

2. Do not carpool with friends or family who are not members of your household.

3. Do not hike in any groups other than members of your household.

4. Avoid parks or trails that have become crowded, even if the area is officially open.  If the parking lot is crowded, there are already too many people there. Turn around and find another location or go home.  Not only does crowding make it impossible to follow social distancing, but it puts extra wear and tear on trails and other park infrastructure at a time when volunteer crews cannot be operating.  Remember, trails don’t magically appear and stay hikable -- that requires a lot of human labor (mostly from volunteers).

5. Avoid playgrounds and their equipment. The virus can live on steel playground equipment for up to 48 hours (longer on plastic), and we all know it’s not possible to sterilize a whole playground nor to keep our kids from touching their faces before their hands get washed.  Many local governments have closed playgrounds and ask that people not use them.

6. Many National Parks, like Mt Rushmore National Memorial, Wind Cave National Park and Jewel Cave National Monument, are accessible but do not have any amenities available.  If you can practice social distancing and adhere to the guidelines set forth in #1, it is acceptable to visit them and take advantage of the many great hiking trails available at these locations.

7. Custer State Park is open, although all visitor centers and dining facilities will remain closed.  If you can follow the guidelines set forth in #1, there are many hiking trails to utilize and animals to see.  It is recommended that you stick to the easier trails as to not risk diverting emergency medical care personnel to wilderness injuries.

8. Picnicking is a great option for getting outside as long as you can practice social distancing, only bring members of your own household, avoid places where people typically gather (e.g., a picnic table could easily have the virus on it), do not have to run any errands specific to the activity (because those would not be considered essential errands), and are using a space that is legal, open, and not crowded, camping and picnicking can also be ways to enjoy the outdoors.   

This is an opportunity to better appreciate the nature that is in our neighborhoods, even if it’s just a few trees, squirrels, and birds, surrounded by a lot of concrete with a blue sky above.   Unlike during and after natural disasters, outside is actually a great and safe place to be right now, if you follow the guidelines above.

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