Why some say they're comfortable exercising outdoors during the COVID-19 pandemic

Mark Puleo

Amid the sweep of COVID-19 across the world and United States, hundreds of millions of Americans are finding themselves with far more time indoors than ever before. While officials and experts continue to urge citizens to isolate and practice social distancing, the value of exercise may be more important than ever.

However, as many states move toward closing non-essential businesses, workout enthusiasts are finding gyms with locked doors, pushing more exercisers outdoors.

In New York, the country's most populous city, coronavirus concerns have hardly been keeping everyone from taking to the streets and public parks for exercise.

"You gotta stay active. Out here, there's enough space between people, where you're not really at risk," Elizabeth Hazan, an undeterred jogger in Brooklyn told AccuWeather National Reporter Dexter Henry this week. "You gotta take advantage," she said, the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, which connects Brooklyn and Staten Island, behind her.

Henry spoke with many others in Brooklyn and lower Manhattan who said they felt safe going outdoors to exercise.

"Social distancing is a public health matter," John Dilyard, a professor at St. Francis College, told AccuWeather National Reporter Dexter Henry. "The idea of it is when there is a public health emergency, you keep people from gathering together to prevent the spread of disease."

Taking in some fresh air while giving your body and mind a healthy break from the indoors can be a key piece of a strong-functioning immune system.

Elizabeth Hazan of New York City said she feels comfortable exercising outdoors, even as much of the country is shutting down amid the COVID-19 outbreak. ((AccuWeather / Dexter Henry))

"When endorphin levels go up, it can counteract the stress response that is so damaging to the immune system," Tony Maloney, the fitness center manager at National Institute for Fitness and Sport in Indianapolis, told The Wall Street Journal. "Exercise also improves mental health. When you're feeling down or stressed, exercise can put a smile on your face."

Even in California, where Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a statewide ‘stay at home' order, the state Department of Public Health encouraged high-risk individuals to get exercise and do outdoor activities.

"As long as you practice social distancing, we encourage you to continue your outdoor activities such as walks, runs and yard work, to the extent your health allows it."

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Dr. Anthony Fauci, who heads the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), has been a lifelong runner and is still making time for a daily jog even amid a global crisis, Yahoo News reporter Alexander Nazaryan shared.

In the Northeast, the first days of spring have brought warm weather, in some cases record-challenging, and friendly conditions, encouraging more people outdoors. As Henry reported, the average temperature in New York City has been almost 8 degrees Fahrenheit above normal this month.

"I think it's important to still enjoy the weather," Ian Koranek of New York City told Henry. "We're here in the beginning of spring, so, yeah, you can still go walk around."

A man jogs in Piers Park in Boston, Friday, March, 20, 2020. People have taken to exercising in the park since gyms were closed due to the coronavirus. (AP Photo / Michael Dwyer)

The constant time spent indoors has been a fuel for many individual's anxiety. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a page within its coronavirus information regarding stress and coping. The page encourages people to try to eat healthy, balanced meals and exercise regularly during these times to help reduce stress.

"The feeling of helplessness might be increasing that you can't do anything," Dilyard said. "The anxiety can increase. So if you can get out and move around and breathe the air and enjoy the sunlight, I think that is a benefit."

That is all good advice because several experts have warned that the current disruption to American life could go on for a long time. As Dr. Madhav Marathe of the Biocomplexity Institute at the University of Virginia told AccuWeather's Bill Waddell, the situation many Americans find themselves in now could last for months.

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