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Health & Medicine

Can Trails, Parks, Outdoors Safely Boost Physical & Mental Health During COVID 19 Seclusion?

Chris Bolt/WAER News

Many people around Central New York spent their weekend trying to figure out what to do while remaining safe from any exposure to the Coronavirus. There’s value in finding activities that will boost our physical and mental health.  We start a series today looking at a few ways to preserve your body and mind, which can play a role in dealing with the threat of the virus.

I’ve been finding a little exercise and a little peace walking the trails of Clark Reservation in Jamesville, within a 15-minute drive of downtown Syracuse.  Other people have also been using the park as a brief respite from either stressful work, or the anxiety of isolation.  Health experts have told me there’s real value in getting some exercise for both physical and mental health, which I’ll talk abut in a few minutes. 

Robin Dropkin is executive Director of Parks and Trails New York and notes the value of getting outside.

Credit Chris Bolt/WAER News
Parks experts say local trails can be useful to get exercise, while battling stress if busy areas are avoided and social distance maintained. Trips should be solo or only with immediate family.

“The outdoors and parks are pretty much the last place we can go to enjoy our lives at this point.  Everything else has been closed, all other entertainment and social outlets.  So it’s just so important to have this one place to go and feel normal in a way, and to breathe the fresh air, and clear your mind.”

Of course you can’t get away from the question of, 'how safe is it?'  Dropkin says measures have been taken at most parks … but it’s also up to you.

“Most indoor places at parks are closed, all the playgrounds are closed, any place that would encourage interaction between people.   So, as long as you stick to walking or biking solo or with your immediate family, I believe that is a safe thing to do.”  

Credit Chris Bolt/WAER News
Signs tell people to avoid gathering areas, such as this volleyball court and picnic area behind it, to limit interaction among people.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation agrees; they chimed in with a message this weekend to utilize parks … in a safe manner.  They suggest staying home if you’re sick at all; keeping your distance from other walkers or hikers – which I’ve noticed not everyone does – you might have to get off the trail while others pass; and stay local and in small groups.  Dropkin has some advice about how you might minimize the risks and maybe explore a little

“There’s a lot of small parks that don’t get visited (as much as) Green Lakes.  DEC has lots of different properties, wildlife management areas, multi-use areas.  Most of them have trails and probably there won’t be a lot of people there.  So, this is a great opportunity to explore outdoor places.”

If you can get outside and move around a little bit it does more than just break up the monotony.  A physical therapist and psychologist both told me exercise reduces stress – which most of us are feeling to some degree.  That in turn helps our immune system that will keep you healthier and even give you a better chance to fight off or weather a COVID 19 infection.  Being outdoors also is proven to reduce anxiety and improve mental health.  But Dropkin says you can’t overdo it, and then become a different kind of problem.

Credit Chris Bolt/WAER News
Some parks and historic places can also help parents educate children. Clark offers unique geology, along with the outdoor exercise and stress relief.

“I also want to encourage people to not take risks at this point.  You don’t want to climb up ledges; there’s still snow and ice on some of the trails.  You don’t want to overburden the medical system right now.  You don’t want to have an accident and go off with an ambulance to the emergency room.”

In our next segment, we’re going to look at a different way to keep your mind and body healthy, and maybe reduce some of the social isolation many are feeling, as traditional health and wellness gatherings have been shut down. 

Experts from a variety of disciplines – recreation and health – are telling us we can’t ignore our overall wellness, even as we’re confronting the threat posed by the Coronavirus pandemic.