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Should I go outside in the COVID-19 era?
Louise de Lannoy, PhD, Mariana Brussoni, PhD, Mark Tremblay, PhD

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Please note that the information published here is based on current recommendations (date: July 21st, 2021). However, the situation surrounding COVID-19 is constantly evolving and recommendations may be subject to change. For updated information, please check with your local public health authority.

Can I go outside? Is it even safe for me to go outside? As “social distancing”, “physical distancing“, and “self-isolation” become a permanent fixture of the global public lexicon and we are transfixed to the news trying to understand how to protect ourselves and our loved ones, there has been a great deal of confusion as to whether we can go outside and take our children out to play.

Canadians are being asked to practice physical distancing to decrease the spread of COVID-19 in the community. Physical distancing involves ‘taking steps to limit the number of people you come into close contact with’. Unless you are told to self-isolate, practicing physical distancing includes going outdoors. In fact, the Ottawa Public Health Unit lists ‘spending time outside and in settings where people can maintain a 2 metre distance from each other’ as one of the ways to practice physical distancing.

Many people may assume they should stay indoors, when in fact, they should stay apart. This can be readily, and responsibly done in the outdoors, while benefiting from its many health promoting features.

Transmission is less likely outdoors

Why is it safe and recommended to go outdoors as part of physical distancing practices? Being indoors is actually worse for virus transmission, such as being in closer contact with those who might be sick, and being in dry, indoor environments. In fact, recent evidence suggests that the transmission of COVID-19 is low outdoors compared to indoors.

Outdoor physical activity makes our immune system more robust

When we go outdoors, we are more physically active, reduce our screen time, and sleep better– and all of these things makes our immune system more robust and increases our defence against COVID-19 and any other challenge to our health. Physical activity can even improve the efficacy of vaccines! Getting outdoors increases our exposure to sunlight, which boosts vitamin D levels, which can in turn boost the immune system and reduce risk of infection. Recent evidence has shown that engaging in regular physical activity may be protective against severe COVID-19 and its complications.

While it may be tempting to indulge in movie marathons, stay up late, and become lax with screen time restrictions for ourselves and our children during this pandemic, now more than ever is the time to adhere to healthy movement guidelines to maintain a healthy immune system and build a strong defence. Getting outside is an essential part of this, especially for children. As we’ve stated in the Position Statement on Active Outdoor Play, when children are outside they move more, sit less, and play longer, all of which is important to maintain physical and mental health.

Connecting to community and making isolation less isolating

Being outdoors, walking around your neighbourhood, sitting outside to watch the birds migrate, playing with your kids– all of these types of activities are good for your mental health and may help you feel more connected to the environment and less isolated while maintaining physical distancing. Do not engage in such activities in large groups!

Unless you are told to self-isolate, practicing physical distancing includes going outdoors.

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Important for Children’s Ability to Process What is Happening Right Now

Getting kids outdoors for active play may also help them process the new normal. Outdoor play provides children with a sense of control and agency over their own actions and is important for social-emotional skill building. Play is therefore especially important to help children process their own emotional responses to adversity and stress, such as with the current pandemic. It provides an important and much healthier entertainment option than screen time, and it will help them sleep better.

How to get active outdoors

  • Several cities have limited access to playgrounds – obey these decisions. Go to parks that remain accessible, ideally at off-peak times to avoid crowds. Be prepared to return home if it is too crowded to practice physical distancing. Use other outdoor spaces, such as driveways, backyards, sidewalks, cul-de-sacs, and forests while respecting distances and infection etiquette (e.g., staying 2m apart, coughing into elbows, washing hands when back inside).
  • For guidance on physical distancing while using parks and trails see the statement from the National Recreation & Parks Association.
  • Ottawa public health put together this guide on how to get active outdoors during COVID-19.
  • There are a number of resources available to help families stay active. We have compiled a list of COVID-19 related resources on our resources page  such as the OPC-Sask in motion Adventure Calendar and the Childhood by Nature free nature-based educational resources.
  • Consider taking micro breaks outdoors. For parents trying to get a full day’s worth of work done while at home, taking small physical activity breaks outdoors with kids may just be the way to do this, while helping their, and your, physical and mental health. Daily physical activity recommendations (for adults or children) do not have to be met in a single bout.

Above all: stay safe, stay healthy. Getting active and outdoors, while adhering carefully to public health guidance can help cope with, contain, and combat COVID-19.

National and International COVID-19 Resources

The Government of Canada webpage is an excellent resource for the latest updates on COVID-19 in Canada and has created a number of easy-to-understand resources on how to stay safe during the outbreak.

For international updates the World Health Organization is a key resource.

For resources on physical distancing and when and how to self-isolate, the Ottawa Public Health Unit has a number of excellent guidelines.

International Play Association – Canada has also published a statement on play during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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