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The Underline Perspective: Safer at Home Order? Exercise Safely Outdoors for Physical and Mental Health

April 6 , 2020
by Meg Daly

Many of us are trying to go about our daily lives but nothing is normal. Store shelves are bare, schools and businesses have been shut down, handshakes and hugs are weapons. And now, we are transitioning from social distancing to shelter-in-place/stay-at-home orders across the country. It’s stressful.

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy recently noted that communities around the world are emphasizing the need to exercise safely and responsibly even while under a quarantine. The San Francisco Bay Area shelter-in-place order included an exemption specifically for “engaging in outdoor activity, such as walking, hiking, or running provided that you maintain at least six feet of social distancing.” In New York, residents have been limiting exercise and activities to things that can be done alone. In Paris, solo physical activity as well as taking the kids outside and walking a pet in your neighborhood are all considered essential. In the City of Miami’s recent shelter-in-place directive, outdoor exercise is permitted.

As we are compelled to stay home, many are solo biking and walking as an alternative to driving and taking public transportation––and for those of us who treasure the environment, it is encouraging to see one unintended consequence of the coronavirus: reduced car and factory emissions resulting in lower pollution levels in hard hit areas.

But cycling and walking have more than environmental benefits. While it is proven that cycling has the most beneficial physical health effects of all transportation modes, it also has mental health benefits: In a recent survey, three quarters of respondents noticed an improvement in their mental health after taking up cycling; one-third said cycling reduced their stress levels and some said it even helped with depression or anxiety. If you don’t own a bike, psychologists have suggested that a 10-minute walk is just as good as a 45-minute workout when it comes to relieving the symptoms of anxiety. Plus, for many of us working at home and need a little mental break, a walk in unpopulated areas can increase creative output by an average of 60%.

We are in frightening times and could be facing monumental economic and social impacts. Let’s do what we can to curb the effects of this pandemic by following the guidance of health and elected officials and take steps to take care of ourselves, both physically and mentally.

About author Meg Daly:

Meg Daly is President/CEO and Founder of Friends of The Underline, a 501(C)(3) non-profit partnering with Miami-Dade County Department of Transportation and Public Works to build The Underline, a 10-mile park, urban biking and walking trail and public art and community destination below Miami-Dade County’s Metrorail.