Our weekly walks started 15 years ago, equal parts exercise and therapy. And when Dori was otherwise homebound, awaiting her 2016 double lung transplant, slow daily walks — with oxygen tank in tow — were a lifeline. Like all Seattleites, our lives have been upended by COVID-19. Still, we’ve continued walking, helping us weather this uncertain time. And we invite you to do the same.
Washington officials are turning to strong social distancing measures, likely our best shot at curbing transmission, giving our health-care system and infrastructure time to adapt, and protecting those most vulnerable to severe COVID-19.
But without its own mitigation plan, this new way of life could also have harms, by diminishing social contact and disrupting daily life. Losing daily routines, along with Washington’s now-shuttered recreational facilities, could also worsen the physical inactivity crisis, already contributing to nearly 1 in 10 U.S. deaths. The CDC recommends 150 minutes of at least moderate-intensity activity and two days of strength training weekly, a benchmark too few of us achieve.
Fortunately, exercise can combat social distancing-associated risks and the COVID-19 blues. And according to Dr. Cyrus Shahpar, Director of the Prevent Epidemics Team at Resolve to Save Lives, exercise is outbreak-safe, granted you follow CDC guidance such as hand-washing thoroughly, avoiding coughing or sneezing, and staying home when ill. He underscored the importance of keeping 6 feet of distance from others, and warned activities involving surfaces potentially harboring the virus should be avoided (sorry, bowling).
Exercise could be your lifeline. Not only does it reduce risk of common conditions like hypertension and diabetes, it also treats depression. Emerging evidence, including a new study published in the American Journal of Health Promotion by Kate and colleagues — suggests exercise holds promise for improving post-traumatic stress disorder, too. The health, learning and mental well-being of Washington youth, now out of school through at least late April, also improve with exercise.
Shahpar says, if exercising away from home, outdoors is safest. An added benefit: Admiring our region’s wildlife and beauty reminds us that even in our darkest times, the natural world remains miraculous. Exercising outdoors also allows you to smile and wave at neighbors (from 6 feet away, obviously), strengthening community connection, critically important right now.
At-home activities like housecleaning and organizing, gardening and preparing a home-cooked meal can help keep you moving, too. People with mobility limitations can do chair exercises, and older adults can follow National Institute on Aging’s fitness program. Dori is now strength-training at home, guided by online videos. Kate now has nightly dance parties with her two young kids.
Meanwhile, we must tend to our well-being. We talked to one Seattleite showing us exercise is fit for the job. Douglas Pullen, 69, says that while he’s staying close to home these days, he’s committed to his daily 10,000 steps.
What keeps him walking? “My dog makes me … staying alive … getting to see the kids,” sharing that one family he previously met while walking joins him for birthdays. While public-health guidance recommends he skip birthday parties for now, he’s glad he can walk, which he views as the key to his health, important to maintain now more than ever.
Outbreak-safe exercise could prove to be life- and sanity-saving medicine for us all.