Staying at home and lazing around might have been a dream for many of us, but no one really expected to live it while the world came to a standstill. Due to COVID-19, most of us are at home practising social distancing. Common outdoor activities like taking a walk and enjoying nature, running or cycling are no longer a part of our routines or are considerably reduced in frequency. Not being able to participate in outdoor activities brings upon us new psychological challenges or amplifies existing ones. Lack of routine, structure and physical interactions with someone are all bound to cause sadness and anxiety, says Claire McCarthy, MD Senior Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publishing. The uncertainty about our material and physical needs going unfulfilled is evident and looms alarmingly over us. Even during a pandemic like the one we are currently going through, where you can risk your life and other’s lives by stepping outside, outdoor activities are very important.

Why Do We Need To Spend Time Outdoors?

Maintaining physical and mental health can be quite difficult during the pandemic. As per Forbes, various studies have shown that green and blue spaces have the capability to reduce anxiety and depression and help in strengthening our immune system. Also, reduced stress hormone, lower heart rate and blood pressure, and reduced risk of chronic health issues were found in people who indulged in shinrin yoku or forest bathing. Shinrin Yoku means experiencing the forest atmosphere through our senses. There are nature therapies based on it but it essentially means enjoying nature and establishing a connection with it. 

Outdoor activities are important

According to Psychology Today a research done by the University of Utah in Salt Lake City stated that there can be many positive mental health results by taking part in outdoor activities. This particular study showed potential in nature contributing towards reducing symptoms of stress, depression and anxiety. Relaxation activities based on nature can improve cognition and develop well-being and resilience in mental health. According to New York Times, a research published in the journal Scientific Reports found that people who engaged in outdoor activities or spent at least two hours a week were healthier than people who did not step out. 

Participating in outdoor activities can help mitigate the negative aspects of their life and bring out positive mental health outcomes like establishing resilience and controlling the amount of stress. The paper also said that 120 minutes a week was a common threshold across genders, social classes and ages. It was the same for older and younger adults, people suffering with long term illnesses, people residing in rich and poor localities and different cultural communities. 

Also read: Ecotherapy: How can nature help with mental health?

Different Countries, Different Coping Methods

Green Quarantines To Keep Us Safe: Mediamatic ETEN, Amsterdam

Some countries like the Czech Republic bid farewell to the virus and are celebrating. Other countries and their service providers have come up with innovative ways to battle the crisis. Mediamatic ETEN, a restaurant in Amsterdam, offers outdoor dining with a new seating arrangement that might become the norm for all restaurants now. It has transparent cubicles that give the diners privacy and also help them practise social distancing. These cubicles are right beside the water. The staff also take precautions like wearing face shields and gloves while serving. They also use a big wooden plank to serve their dishes so as to reduce the risk of direct contact with the customers. There have been trial runs before the restaurant and bar implemented this method on 21 May, 2020.

Also read: Is Czech Republic Celebrating Too Soon?

At This End Of The Rope: La Grande-Motte, France

The French opened their beaches on 16 May, 2020. The country had been on a lockdown since mid-March to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. Few beaches in northern France and the Mediterranean coast were handpicked and opened to the public. The officials identified areas that were the least infected, calling green zones. The residents there were allowed to access the beach. The need for outdoor activities has prompted the beaches to reopen, with new social distancing norms. Beaches like La Grande-Motte were divided into sections using ropes. These zones or spots can be booked online for a maximum time of three hours.

Over The Waters And Under The Stars: Arsenal Dock, Venice

Venice had 2,49,000 confirmed coronavirus cases as of 7 August 2020. Of these, 2,01,000 have recovered. At the initial stage, Venice struggled to contain the virus, so much so that on 19 March, 2020, the Italian army was called in to transport the bodies of the deceased as the crematoriums filled up in Bergamo town. The situation has gotten better now, and on 29 July, 2020 the city hosted a ‘barch-in’, where residents enjoyed watching a movie outdoors, at the Arsenal Dock. As the movie ‘The Prestige’ by Christopher Nolan played, around 200 people gathered in 50 boats. Other cities across the world have also opened drive-ins to serve customers. Barca means boat in Italian, so the phrase here literally translates to boat-ins. 

Take The Step To Feel Better

According to The New York Times, many interviews suggest that since there is fresh air and more space between individuals outside, it is safer to participate outdoors rather than in an indoor setting like a mall or office. Also Forbes noted a study that showed that the absence of forest or forest views from an office’s window causes less job satisfaction and more job stress. Access to green spaces helps in calming the body down. Bringing a plant home or planting a seed is an optimistic action and builds hope in people. During these turbulent times, we all need a branch of hope to hang on.

A Guide Before You Step Outside

  • Whenever you step outside make sure to avoid any close contact with others. Even if you step in a park, if there are markers, stay within them, and make sure to maintain a distance of six feet from anyone else. 
  • Keep a bottle of sanitiser along with you wherever you go. Washing your hands with soap and water is preferred, but while outside, sanitiser is fine. Pick a sanitiser that does not have methanol, as it can be absorbed through your skin and cause harm to internal organs.   
  • If you are going out on a run or cycling, make sure to choose your route wisely and run more on sidewalks and trails. Be aware of your body, as we are very casual with our elbows and hands, touching multitudes of surfaces like railings. 
  • Carry your own water bottle, tissues, sanitiser, and a snack when you leave for outdoor activities. 
  • Make sure to always have a mask on, and practise social distancing while outside. In the case of running, jogging or cycling, wearing a mask might impair your breathing as the need for oxygen increases while doing these activities. Officials of New York City and San Francisco have urged runners and bikers to carry a mask and put it on only when they are in the proximity of 30 feet to other people. 

Make The Best Out Of The Situation

Being outdoors, even while practising social distancing and wearing a mask, might not be possible for all. Those who can, should do so with the proper precautions. A quick walk in your building compound when no one is around, a safe grocery run, or a job in an accessible park when you’re in the only one—all these outdoor activities are not just beneficial for the brain, they’re great for the body too. The early hours of the morning ensure you get a good dose of vitamin D, a quick look around at the greenery around you calms your mind, and a glance at the sky reminds you to slow your breathing and take it all in one day at a time. Until it’s safe to go back to our normal outdoor activities, we must make do with a few changes like these. Remember: A little goes a long way. 

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