Getting outside while social distancing

Wildflowers in full bloom. Photo credit: Olivia Fenwick

During social isolation, the most urgent thought in many Canadians’ heads is to stay home and prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus. However, the call to stay home doesn’t mean staying inside all day every day.

There are plenty of reasons to get outdoors.

Patricia Lowe is the director of community engagement for the Central Lake Ontario Conservation Association (CLOCA). She says that now is the perfect time to get outside and witness nature.

“Nature abounds at this time of year,” she says. “There’s a lot of bird migration that’s going to be happening, so just with how silent everything is, without the car traffic and the air traffic, you can actually hear birds singing, and we would encourage people to just get out and enjoy what is right around them, literally in their backyards.”

According to Ontario Parks, research links exposure to nature to reduced stress. Being outside reduces muscle tension, blood pressure, and brain activity–even within only a few minutes exposure.

Harvard Health has published studies on the boost of Vitamin D people get from sunlight. Their studies show Vitamin D also helps to prevent osteoporosis, depression and heart attacks.

The National Wildlife Federation says spending time outdoors can also boost academics. Things like sleep patterns and attention span are benefits you might not expect from spending more time outside in fresh air and sunlight.

However, it is still important to practice proper social distancing while getting that dose of Vitamin D.

An option for those looking to stay fit could be to exercise outdoors now that gyms are closed. If people have a balcony, backyard, or a sidewalk nearby, they have unlimited gym space to complete at-home workouts or running exercises.

CLOCA, as well as other conservation groups, has closed all of its parks.

However, Lowe says there is still opportunity to get outside without putting yourself or others at risk.

“If you are staying at home, there’s opportunity to walk in your own neighbourhoods, as long as you follow those social distancing practices,” she says.

Lowe adds something as simple as remembering to crack open a window while isolating can be beneficial.

The need for fresh air won’t end after self-isolation. Students looking for opportunities to get outdoors – when life returns to normal – can look no further than the Purple Woods Conservation Area in north Oshawa.

Purple Woods is home to trails, a maple syrup farm, and multiple outdoor education programs. There is a small loop trail that is accessible for light hikes, as well as cross-country training.

There are also opportunities for student placement. Students in event planning and culinary programs are able to get involved in special events such as the annual Purple Woods Maple Syrup Festival and the Watershed Festival.

Lowe says that there are also volunteer and internship positions for students in engineering and many other subjects. Applications and details for volunteer positions are available on the CLOCA website.

Although the parks are closed, CLOCA has also posted material online for parents looking to entertain their children while stuck at home. They have online resources for teaching children about Ontario’s wildlife.

“We’ve had this change in how we are operating, everybody,” says Lowe. “So it’s that ability to be flexible and adapt to that change and look for new opportunities.”

There are no updates yet on when CLOCA will reopen its parks but people can still do their best to separate themselves from others while getting sunlight and fresh air.

To find out more about practicing safe social distancing, while still being able to get outdoors, people can visit their own municipality’s official website. For students still living in Durham, visit the official Durham Region website for the most recent COVID-19 updates on social distancing protocol.