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Exercising outside during self quarantine: The do's and don'ts

Stay-at-home orders? Here's how you can still exercise outdoors during the coronavirus pandemic.

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Getting outside is still allowed. Here's how to do so safely.

James Martin/CNET
For the most up-to-date news and information about the coronavirus pandemic, visit the WHO website.

As state after state is struck with stay-at-home or shelter-in-place orders due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, many people have been left wondering what they can and can't do. While you should abide by the mandates from your state and local authorities, there's one thing that almost everyone can still do: simply go outside. 

Yes, the US federal government has enacted a set of guidelines for Americans to follow, and most states have followed suit with their own sets of rules based on regional and local threats. These orders are in place to slow the spread of COVID-19 and keep healthcare systems from being inundated. 

But that doesn't mean that you're restricted entirely to your home. While Americans should stay at home as much as possible and limit time in public places to only essential tasks such as buying groceries, going outside is still allowed. And that means you can exercise outside -- here's what to keep in mind and how to do it safely. 

Read more: 8 relaxing activities to help you cope with coronavirus stress 

Is it OK to go outside during the coronavirus outbreak?

Yes, it is OK to go outside during the coronavirus outbreak, as long as you practice safe social distancing and other guidelines on how to protect yourself and others from the novel coronavirus. You may not be able to go to the particular outdoor area you want to visit, but at the very least, you can get outside and walk around your own neighborhood. 

Where can you go to exercise during a stay-at-home order? 

While a stay-at-home mandate certainly sounds daunting, there are plenty of outdoor places you can go to get in a workout. Sure, you can exercise inside, too, but many people have a little bit of cabin fever at this point, and could probably use some more of the sunshine vitamin. 

Read more: The best home exercise equipment in 2020  

These suggestions for exercising outdoors during coronavirus are that only: suggestions. Always check with your state and local government orders before traveling anywhere during the COVID-19 outbreak, even a park in the next neighborhood over. 

Current rules vary by state and may change at any given moment, so you should always check to make sure you're in compliance with your state's guidelines. 

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Neighborhood streets and trails

Your own neighborhood is the safest place to exercise outdoors right now, because you don't have to travel to get there, and you can easily keep your distance from other people. You can walk, jog and bike your neighborhood streets, and if you live in an area with trails, you can also go hiking. (If the trails are publicly managed, check with the agency that manages them first.)

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Going outside in your own neighborhood or nearby, lightly trafficked trails is the best option.

James Martin/CNET

You can also use your own yard for outdoors at-home workouts: If you're going to do a bodyweight circuit, you might as well do it outside rather than inside, since stay-at-home orders mean you're probably getting less fresh air and sunlight than usual. 

Read more: The best workout shoes for every type of exercise, according to fitness trainers    

National Park Service properties

According to the National Park Service's (NPS) official statement on COVID-19, many NPS properties are open to the public without the usual entry fees. Because the NPS is making closure and operations decisions based on state and local authorities, park closures vary by state. 

Properties open across the US include National Parks, National Monuments, National Historic Sites, National Recreation Areas, National Wildlife Refuges and other NPS designations -- however, you should check the status of the individual park you wish to go to. The park may be closed or have modified operations. 

If there is an NPS property near your home, and your state hasn't mandated that residents avoid parks, these properties offer a great change of scenery and a fun way to work out, as well as educational opportunities. 

Read more: Best sunscreen for 2020: Neutrogena, EltaMD, Supergoop and more

State parks

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Certain parts of parks, or entire parks, may be closed. Check for closures before traveling anywhere.

James Martin/CNET

Check your state's official order or advisory and the website of the park you want to go to. Even in states without an official stay-at-home order, state parks may close in the best interest of their staff and visitors. Some parks may have limited hours or operations. 

For example, in California, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a "soft closure" of state parks that might discourage people -- but not bar them -- from visiting state parks. The order involved closing parks to vehicular traffic and closing campgrounds, as well as museums and visitor centers within parks. 

Beaches

Not all states have closed beaches to the public yet, but some have: Beaches across Florida shuttered after thousands of spring breakers crowded them and as of March 23, 2020, all Florida state parks -- which includes many beaches -- are closed to the public until further notice. 

And in South Carolina, individual beaches, such as Hilton Head Island and Tybee Island are closing public access points. South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster has also given local law enforcement direction to break up crowds on beaches

If you live in a coastal state, or in a state with lakefront or riverfront beaches, check with local authorities before going to a beach. 

Other publicly managed parks and hiking trails

For parks and trails managed by agencies other than the NPS or your state, check with the managing agency before you go to a park for exercise. For instance, many trails and parks in California remain open, but the Mountains Recreation and Conservancy Agency, an organization that manages trails in Los Angeles and Ventura Counties, closed all of its parks and trails in response to COVID-19 and an apparent lack of social distancing. 

Play it safe

The best way to find out where you can exercise during the coronavirus outbreak is to first check with your state's official mandate or advisory, and then check the status of the property you want to go to. So, if you want to go to a particular park, make sure you're allowed to go to parks at all, and then ensure the park you're interested in is still open to visitors. 

In Louisiana, for example, Gov. John Bel Edwards' stay-at-home order allows you to exercise outdoors -- in fact, encourages it, with proper social distancing measures -- but the city of New Orleans closed several popular outdoor areas when people were seen setting up cookouts and crawfish boils, ignoring warnings from officials. 

An apparent theme across all types of outdoor areas -- parks, trails and beaches alike -- is that local or state officials will shut them down when people ignore social distancing standards. This should incentivize people to keep a safe distance from others and minimize the size of groups (or go alone) so you can continue to exercise outdoors during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Safely exercising outdoors during coronavirus outbreak

The same hygiene guidelines that apply in gyms also apply to outdoor exercise: 

  • If you're using shared equipment (such as between you and a family member or at a park with a pull-up bar), wipe it down before and after use. Even if you're the only one using your equipment, it's still a good idea to wipe it down. 
  • Wash your hands before and after your workout, and sanitize in between sets if you feel the need to. 
  • Don't touch the cap of your water bottle with dirty hands. If you happen to do so, take the time to clean your water bottle. 
  • Avoid touching your face. You should be doing this all the time, but especially during your workout. 

But now, during the coronavirus outbreak, additional guidelines apply. To safely exercise outdoors at home or otherwise, keep this advice in mind: 

  • While running, walking or biking in your neighborhood, maintain a distance of at least six feet between yourself and others. 
  • If you plan to go hiking, choose a less popular trail -- one that isn't as trafficked and where you minimize the likelihood of running into crowds. 
  • As fun as it might be to gather neighborhood friends for an outdoor workout, now is a better time to workout alone. You can workout with others in your household, but don't use exercise as an excuse to ignore social distancing standards.  
  • Avoid popular parks and recreation areas. This is a good time to broaden your horizons and find different areas you may love. 
  • Avoid peak times at parks. Although many of our schedules look different right now, people may still congregate in parks during certain timeframes. Try to avoid going to parks at lunchtime and in the mid-to-late evening -- this could be the time to pick up that early morning workout habit you've been pondering. 
  • Go straight home after your workout. Save stretching for later; you can do that once you get home. The less time you spend away from your home, the less likely you are to spread the novel coronavirus. 

Benefits of outdoor exercise

The benefits of exercise are many, as are the benefits of spending time in nature. You don't need science to know that spending a little time outdoors and moving your body can almost instantly boost your mood -- but here's the proof, anyway: 

And then you can't discount the benefits of some fresh air and greenery: 

Get started  

Starting an at-home workout routine, indoors or out, is one of the best things you can do for your health during the coronavirus outbreak. To help you get started, here are some helpful links:

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.