COVID-19 Got You Feeling Cooped Up? An Expert Says It’s OK to Go Outside

Arashiyama Bamboo Forest, Japan (Daniel Peckham / Flickr)Arashiyama Bamboo Forest, Japan (Daniel Peckham / Flickr)

Stir crazy yet?

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It’s been, what, three days of self-isolation for a large number of Chicagoans and people are already feeling antsy. 

The good news is that social distancing doesn’t mean we all need to hunker down indoors. It’s OK to go outside, with a few major caveats, said Dr. Robert Murphy, director of the Institute for Global Health at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

“You can practice social distancing outdoors, just keep to yourself. Remember the 6-feet rule,” said Murphy. “Kids can go outdoors too, it’s good for them. But they shouldn’t be playing with other kids except the ones they live with.”

So that puts the kibosh on play dates, meet ups at the playground or field trips, but leaves the door open to games of catch, kick the can and all manner of sibling rivalry.

Plenty of adults have been proposing neighborhood walking groups as an antidote to cabin fever. Murphy nixed the idea, saying communal activities should be limited.

“If you do it, just a few people, walking 6 feet apart,” he cautioned.

Running, biking or strolling along paths, or visiting parks and nature preserves is fine, Murphy said, as long as people are alone or with their partner and/or their children.

In fact, we think now might be the perfect time to take up “forest bathing” as a hobby.

Already a popular therapy in Japan, forest bathing involves little more than sitting, lying down or just walking among trees.

While that might sound like a hippy-dippy way to combat a global pandemic, research suggests that certain organic compounds released by trees might help boost the immune system. Other studies have shown that exposure to green space reduces stress — something we could all benefit from right about now. 

But these benefits go out the window the minute we forget about social distance.

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources was compelled to close all state parks, fish and wildlife areas, recreational areas, and historic sites out of concerns about the coronavirus.

“Too much socialization expected,” said Murphy.

The Chicago Park District has halted programming (at all but 18 sites) and the Forest Preserves of Cook County has canceled permitted events and closed its nature centers, but the grounds of the parks and preserves are open.

So by all means head outside, Murphy said, but "Go out by yourself. Avoid other people, keep your distance."

Hug a tree instead.

Contact Patty Wetli: @pattywetli | (773) 509-5623 |  [email protected]

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