With the goal of stopping the spread of COVID-19 in mind, staying at home and social distancing has become the new reality for most Americans. Even menial, everyday tasks such as going to the grocery store, filling your car up with gas, and taking public transportation are being frowned upon for fear of spreading the novel coronavirus. But one activity that gets the green light from healthcare officials, so long as you maintain six feet of distance from other individuals, is getting outside for some fresh air. This is good news since research demonstrates that exposure to the great outdoors can benefit a person's health in many ways. "Taking a walk and being in sunlight can improve cardiovascular fitness, enhance mood, and help relieve depressive symptoms," says Rusha Modi, M.D., a physician in internal medicine, gastroenterology, and hepatology and assistant professor of Clinical Medicine at Keck Medical Center of USC. "Sunlight has been shown to help establish circadian rhythms, which can be altered if people are not regularly leaving to go outside, as well as aid in vitamin D production."
Unless you are feeling symptoms of being sick or have been in contact with someone who has, you should absolutely get outdoors during this time of self-isolation. Here are eight safe spaces to enjoy some fresh air and sunlight during shelter-in-place.
Your Balcony—or Rooftop
For urban dwellers who might be afraid to leave their apartment, a rooftop, balcony, or a public garden could be a safe space as long as you're making sure to maintain a six-foot distance between other people, says Monisha Bhanote, MD, FCAP, triple board-certified physician. She recommends getting 15 minutes in the morning, afternoon, and evening on your balcony or roof, whether it's for your morning cup of coffee or an afternoon session of jumping jacks. "During the rest of the day open up your blinds and let the daylight in," she adds.
"City folk can walk in tree-lined neighborhoods, along border walks, and in parks. Use the time to connect to people with smiles even if you are six feet away," says Gabrielle Francis, N.D, a naturopathic doctor and Love Wellness advisor. "It's a nice way to show lonely elderly people that they are not alone while keeping them at a safe distance."
For those who cannot spend time outside, Dr. Modi recommends opening up as many windows as possible and sitting near one for several minutes at a time. "This improves circulation and helps minimize chances of coronavirus remaining in ventilatory systems, especially for those who live with others or are in apartment complexes," he says.
Those with a full backyard, or even a small shared yard, are feeling extra grateful right now—there's nothing quite like having your own space to breathe in fresh air outdoors. If this is you, Francis recommends taking time away from your screens and going into the yard to simply sit or to do an activity, like gardening. "Perhaps even do your exercise, yoga, or meditation in your backyard instead of inside to get a double whammy of good health for the mind, body, and spirit," she adds.
If you live in the suburbs or a rural area, there's no reason you can't take a walk around the block. "You are very unlikely to encounter hordes of people," says Niket Sonpal, M.D., assistant professor of clinical medicine at Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine in Harlem, New York. "You can get exercise and sun this way and if you do see people, there is plenty of room to social distance."
Most parks and trails are still open for community members and are unlikely to be overpopulated during this period of isolation. Consider biking, rollerblading, running, or simply walking down one—just avoid popular trails and look for quieter spots, suggests Dr. Bhanote. "Also mix up the time of day you go, keep a safe distance, and use hand washing hygiene upon returning to your home," she says.
A Tennis Court
If you love a good game of tennis, there's no reason to stop playing—so long as you are playing with a person you are isolating with using tennis balls from your own home or new in a can, according to Dr. Sonpal. "This is not a time to be rounding up mixed doubles games with strangers or even your neighbors since your sweat is passed on the tennis ball which you pick up with your hands."
When all else fails, Giselle Wasfie, Doctor of Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine (D.A.C.M.) and founder of REMIX Lifestyle in Chicago, suggests visualization for 10 minutes of a happy outdoor space. "This evokes many of the same warm and sunny feelings and does amazing things for both your body and mind," she says. Or at the very least head online and take a virtual trip to a national park.