March 12, 2020 was a day for the record books.
In a mere 24 hours, every US professional sports season and even college’s March Madness fell silent as schools closed and employers started sending employees home. Overnight, every source of mass-togetherness, from the sports world to the arts world was replaced by an urgent focus on “social distancing” as a way to slow the COVID-19 virus epidemic.
Why social distancing is important
On its surface, the concept of social distancing is simple. If you’re far enough away from others to eliminate person-to-person transmission, then we slow the contagion long enough for science to catch up.
But in real life, is the best thing really to hunker down in our homes like post-apocalyptic end-of-world preppers, guarding our private stashes of hand sanitizer and toilet paper that we’ve simultaneously mass-purchased?
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) defines social distancing as limited close contact–greater than six feet between people. With that in mind, and the knowledge that this is a respiratory disease, let’s look at three forms of social distancing:
- Staying home
- Going for a solo walk
- Bike riding solo
Staying home for social distancing
Nothing protects you from the world’s germs and viruses like self-quarantining behind walls and windows, interacting with others only via video chat, text, or phone. That doesn’t necessarily make it the healthiest option.
In many cases, we’re self-quarantining when we’re healthy, left to read about worst-case scenarios, stress alone about things beyond our control and binge-watch Netflix for escapism. And stress-eat. And boredom-eat. (Good thinking, purchasing all that toilet paper).
This approach may be free from the virus, but the combination of stress and no exercise is not healthy. Healthline lists a slew of stress-related problems, but consider this:
… over time, stress hormones will weaken your immune system and reduce your body’s response to foreign invaders. People under chronic stress are more susceptible to viral illnesses like the flu and the common cold, as well as other infections. Stress can also increase the time it takes you to recover from an illness or injury.
Ultimately, a strategy of exclusively staying home makes you safer from COVID-19, but more susceptible to its effects once you come out from hiding.
Walking for exercise and personal space
Going for a walk is perhaps the simplest way to get some exercise. It requires no special equipment, and it all starts the moment you step outside your door.
Harvard Medical School offers the details on five top health benefits of walking, but it’s worth listing them at a top level here:
- It counteracts the effects of weight-promoting genes.
- It helps tame a sweet tooth.
- It reduces the risk of developing breast cancer.
- It eases joint pain.
- It boosts immune function.
Immediately, over half of these apply directly to the coronavirus epidemic. Not only does walking directly counteract the snacking side-effects of going cabin-crazy in a place with ample munchies, but it directly boosts your immune system at a time when you need it more than ever.
And yet, why might walking be a problem now?
In a word, community. Normally that’s a great thing. When you walk around your neighborhood, you see your neighbors, wave to them, ask about their dogs, chat about stuff…and eventually get closer than six feet. Maybe it’s still OK, or maybe you’re spending time with someone who’s infected but doesn’t yet know it.
If you were further from your neighborhood, or moving faster, you might have a lesser chance of contact. Which brings us to our last option.
Biking for exercise and personal space
Like any large event, mass bike rides are highly social, and subject to the same headwinds about too many people that have canceled or postponed so many other large events. They’re loads of fun, but not what we’re talking about with biking for social distancing.
This is simpler. It’s about getting on your bike and going someplace, or if there’s no place safe to ride nearby, putting your bike on your car or in your car if your bike does that, and going for a solo ride.
It’s about being someplace where you can be as free as the wind, free from COVID-19 virus or news, and just enjoying the rush of scenery going by. All those benefits of walking? Those were really about low-impact exercising, and they all apply here, plus the mental benefits of exploring new areas and immersing yourself in nature if you’re lucky enough to have parks nearby.
If you meet folks along the way, you probably won’t be chatting. And if you do, you’ll have a couple of bike handlebars between you, along with the personal space that naturally separates bikes from each other. It all adds up to the CDC’s recommended six feet or more. That’s safe!
How solo is solo?
Again, we’ll defer to the CDC on this one. But if you’re sharing a house with someone, eating at the same table and breathing the same air, then there’s zero added risk of walking or biking together. Just keep the socializing small and selective, with folks whose travel history and health status you know. Go deep instead of wide.
Be safe and healthy, and we’ll see you out on the trails… from six feet away.