Is It Safe to Walk Outside During Coronavirus Outbreak?

We hear on the news that the coronavirus could stay around for a couple of years, which makes it highly unlikely we'll go back to normal life anytime soon. We might see permanent changes in the manner businesses operate, large events could remain nonexistent for the near future and social distancing has the potential to become a regular presence of in-person communication. Plus, with gyms closed indefinitely you've had to shift the way you workout.

Because politicians deemed outdoor exercise essential in most states, walking is one of the most realistic fitness possibilities you can perform outdoors during this pandemic. But with the coronavirus, do you dare head outside?

The answer is yes. You can head outdoors as long as you follow the recommended safety tips to avoid exposing yourself or others to the virus.

Follow Social Distancing Guidelines

You should still practice social distancing when out for a walk or a hike. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that this means staying at least six feet from other people and not gathering in groups. If you are walking with either one person or a group of people who all live in your household, you can walk close together, per CDC regulations.

If you have a walking buddy who doesn't live in your household, you should practice social distancing during your walk.

Granted, this makes holding a conversation challenging. But you can use headphones and call each other on your cellphones as you walk, and put your cellphones in a shirt or pants pocket as you talk. This will leave your hands free (to hold a water bottle if needed) and not make walking as cumbersome.

You should also follow proper social etiquette when walking. If you see people not adhering to the social distancing rules, you should avoid saying anything. You don't know if they live in the same household. However, if you find someone getting too close to you, feel free to say something.

When walking with members of your household and you see someone coming, move to walking in a single-file line to clear a path. You also might want to look behind you every few minutes to make sure no one is approaching too closely.

Dressing For an Outdoor Walk

You should take more into consideration than usual when dressing for outdoor exercise during this pandemic. These tips can help you stay safe and avoid contracting the virus:

Wear a Mask

Harvard Health Publishing says that everyone in the U.S. should wear a nonsurgical mask when going out in public. This is because the coronavirus primarily spreads when someone breathes in droplets that contain the virus when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

These droplets can remain in the air for up to three hours — even if you see no one out on your walk, the virus can still be lingering around you.

Because you breathe heavier when exercising and have your mouth open to take in more air, you could put yourself at greater risk of exposure without a mask.

Choose Apparel Wisely

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, you should choose clothes that pull sweat away from the skin and dry quickly. This can help keep your body from experiencing hypothermia and make you less susceptible to getting sick.

Quick-drying fabrics to look for include terms such as Dri-fit, Supplex and moisture-wicking. If you are heading up high trails in which you experience drastic weather changes, wool can keep you dry and cool as well.

For walking and hiking, choose loose-fitting clothing rather than skin-tight clothing you would need for running and yoga, says the U.S. Library of Medicine.

Avoid cotton at this time. Cotton tends to absorb sweat and doesn't dry as quickly.

Dress for the Weather

Parts of the country are still experiencing cold weather. If the temperature dips below 55 degrees, you should consider dressing in layers. Wear gloves, hat and ear coverings if you need to, as these parts of the body tend to get the coldest.

Wear the Right Gear

Without as many cars on the road, walking has become a safer activity than usual. However, you should still wear reflective gear when you head outdoors at night to ensure visibility and wear light-colored clothing when walking or hiking in the sun to avoid overheating.

Don't Stay in Your Workout Clothes

Change your clothes immediately upon returning home and put them in your laundry hamper rather than in your bedroom. According to Harvard Health Publishing, the COVID-19 virus can live on objects for up to 72 hours. This means heading home immediately after a walk or a hike and not stopping for a smoothie at the drive-thru.

We also recommend taking off your shoes at the door and leaving them outside. This won't allow you to bring any potential viruses into the home.

Walking and Hiking Tips During Coronavirus

ou should follow safety protocols set by the CDC and your local parks and recreation department for safe walking and hiking during the pandemic. These can vary from state to state, and you'll need to research what trails are open in your area, if there are any.

Specific protocols you should follow during the pandemic include the following:

  • Watch where you park. Some trails are requiring you to park in every other space. You might want to go farther than this and park in the back of a lot where other cars (and people) won't be near you.
  • Don’t spit. You see runners and cyclists spitting sometimes as saliva can get caught in heavy breathing. If you have a spitting habit, wear a mask as this can help you remember not to spit.
  • Wash your hands before you go out and immediately when getting home. You should also keep some hand sanitizer in your car to use after you finish your workout.
  • Carry a water bottle. You want to keep yourself as hydrated as possible to avoid getting sick. According to the Mayo Clinic, the adequate daily intake is approximately 15.5 cups of fluids for men and 11.5 cups of fluids for women each day. For walking and hiking less than an hour, water is all you need to drink. The Mayo Clinic says you only need a sports drink when you're exercising intensely for more than an hour.
  • Stretch at home if possible or use your car for a stretching stabilizer if you drive to where you walk or hike. Don't use park benches or trees as workout equipment. Try to keep your hands from touching anything other than your phone and water bottle.

When to Stay Inside

Not everyone should head outdoors to workout. Those who are immunocompromised might want to stay indoors. Such health conditions in which indoor workouts might become necessary include the following:

Asthma

According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), asthma is quite common — 1 in 13 people have asthma and it is the leading chronic disease in children. For anyone with this health condition, you should consider indoor workouts.

Asthma causes swelling of the airways and can narrow the passageways that carry air from the nose and mouth to the lungs. This can cause trouble breathing and tightness in the chest. Because the coronavirus can incite serious breathing issues, those who have asthma should be extra guarded when outdoors.

Seasonal Allergies

The coronavirus hit at the beginning of spring when plants and flowers bloom, often causing seasonal allergies to act up. The AAFA says that such allergies can cause trouble breathing, which can make combating the coronavirus that much more difficult when you expose yourself to allergens.
To help determine if you can walk outdoors on a specific day, you can visit the National Allergy Map to see allergy levels and pollen count forecasts.

Feeling Under the Weather

Walking is one of the simplest forms of exercise — even when you feel weak or tired, you often can still lace up your shoes and head outside for a walk to get some fresh air. But during a pandemic, you need to keep your immune system as strong as possible. If you must workout, staying indoors and performing a stretching or yoga workout is a beneficial alternative.

You shouldn’t worry about losing fitness gains by switching to a different type of cardio workout. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, yoga can help control weight and burn calories (from 180 to 460 calories each session). Yoga practice can also benefit your mental health by mitigating anxiety associated with life situations, such as the stress of quarantining.

Although Harvard Health Publishing says that the vulnerable are at an increased risk of COVID-19 (which includes older adults and those with underlying conditions such as heart disease, lung disease, and diabetes), the vulnerable can still go outside if they practice safe social distancing and stay indoors when not feeling well.

Bad Weather

You also should stay inside during inclement weather. Although you might not mind walking in the rain, exposure to poor outdoor elements could put your immune system at risk. The Mayo Clinic says that getting wet makes you more vulnerable to the cold, and if you get soaking wet, you might not be able to keep your core body temperature at proper levels.

Why You Should Walk

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDKD), you need 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity to stay healthy. Walking briskly for 30 minutes, five days a week will allow you to reach this goal. But even a 10-minute interval can work.

While quarantining and working from home, stepping outside for some fresh air and doing a 10-minute loop around the neighborhood three times a day will get you the aerobic exercise you need to help lower your blood pressure, cholesterol, and risk of heart disease.

Above all, as your cabin fever and level of anxiety about the future grows during this pandemic, walking can lift your mood says the NIDDKD.

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Article Sources
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  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Social Distancing, Quarantine, and Isolation. Updated April 4, 2020.

  • Harvard Health Publishing. Coronavirus Resource Center. Updated April 17, 2020.

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  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Yoga: What You Need to Know. Updated May 2019.

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