Making Going Outside a Habit in the Midst of COVID-19

The escalation of the Coronavirus over the last 10 days has flipped industries upside down, crashed our economic markets and put hundreds of thousands out of work. Stocks plunged on Wall Street, triggering trading halts over and over again. The Dow had its worst day since the 2008 recession. 

The Kentucky Derby was postponed for the first time since world war two. Schools were shut down for 6 weeks, putting employees out of work and children at home with no caregivers. Hospitals started to ban visitors, national sports leagues halted their seasons, and President Trump declared a national emergency. The World Health Organization declared the outbreak a pandemic, resulting in Washington State’s Governor, Jay Inslee, rolling out social distancing measures and banning any events with more than 250 people. The numbers then shrunk to 150, then 50, and now just a small 10 people. 

In just the last week, Washington residents went from normal day-to-day life to semi-quarantined living. I’ve watched as conferences and major events cancelled, mountain ski-passes stop their lifts, and Governor Inslee announced that all entertainment and recreational facilities are to be closed as well as bars and restaurants. At this point, we are warned not to get within 6 feet of one another. Even my grandpa, the toughest man I know, said that he is concerned. That’s when shit got real for me, and I started explore the relationship between the outdoors and our immune health.

Start Now
Being in the tourism and events industry, I have personally seen how the economic impacts of this virus have forced the American people to try balancing taking proactive measures to stop the spread of the virus, while also keeping their jobs and sanity in-tact for as long as possible. 

Isolation effects have collided with the fear and anxiety for our world, lowering our immunity even further in a time where we need systems as strong as shining armor. This level of separation in our otherwise communal lives has made one thing clear- the outdoors are here for all of us and provide exactly what we may need more of. We are re-learning as a planet that the simple things are the best medicine- happiness, freedom and simple fresh air.

The traditional 9-5 office life is non-existent at this time and I believe we should use it to kindle proactive health once again. This is a new beginning for us to reshape our habits, explore new areas of our communities, and invest in our health. It is a time for gardening, time for walking and deep breathing, and a time for exploring freedom away from the urban world. 

Being Outdoors Reduces Stress and Boosts Immune Systems
Miyazaki is a physiological anthropologist and a Director of Chiba University’s Center for Environment, Health and Field Sciences. He has taken more than 600 research subjects into the woods to study the effects. Unsurprising, his reports showed that being outside lead to better moods and lower anxiety- which has a direct effect on immunity strength.

Miyazaki’s further research has shown that forest walks can lead to:

  • 12.4% decrease in the stress hormone cortisol
  • 7% decrease in sympathetic nerve activity (also known as “fight-or-flight” behaviors)
  • 1.4% decrease in blood pressure
  • 5.8% decrease in heart rate

“Throughout our evolution, we’ve spent 99.9 percent of our time in natural environments,” Miyazaki said. “Our physiological functions are still adapted to it. During everyday life, a feeling of comfort can be achieved if our rhythms are synchronized with those of the environment.” We have seen this same understanding applied to medicine over centuries, indicating that it might be able to complement Western Medicine practices we see today.

Learning from the 1918 Influenza Pandemic
As Richard Hobday states in an article analyzing the sun’s effects during the Influenza Pandemic, “Fresh air, sunlight and improvised face masks seemed to work a century ago and they might help us now.” Doctors during this time discovered that patients whose beds were moved outdoors had developed stronger immune systems and recovered faster than those treated inside. This being said, I am not a medical professional and am not going to try to convince you that more vitamin D will help prevent the Coronavirus, but I can speak to the thought that we can use this time as an excuse to slow down, soak in some sun, and focus on the good things that our “put your head down and work” American lifestyle has tended to neglect.

Breathing Fresh Air is a Gift
It’s truly humbling to have something as devastating as a virus scare us into our homes and make us grip any remaining hope left. If anything good comes from this situation, it is giving people across the globe a new appreciation for life itself. Even just the freedoms and luxuries of being able to work, spend time with loved ones, and hug our grandparents. The conveniences to find the items we need in the grocery store and the day-to-day ease of “life problems” we now look back at and can describe as minuscule. If we can carry this gratification through this hard season, it can help us to unite, endure and rebuild when it’s finally over. 

By the way- National Parks are currently free to enter despite all of the chaos! For information on hiking responsibly during this time, check out this article from the Washington Trails Association.

Stay healthy,

Madison Ford


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