Despite COVID, We’re Still Working Out in the Woods

What a year it has been. Lockdowns, job losses, illness, online school struggles. Social isolation. And even less exercise and ordinary moving-around than usual. Ugh.

I moved my workshops to Zoom, and I let my blog slide (no excuse for that). But with various members of my brave and loyal local tribe, we’ve never stopped our weekly “Fierce in the Forest” workouts. (When the parks were closed, we moved to my front yard, with participant limits and plenty of spacing.)

I’d started leading outdoor workouts in January 2019, inspired by natural movement advocates like the authors of Go Wild and the way older people gather in parks to exercise in China and elsewhere. At the time, I had no idea that these weekly gatherings would become a lifeline for me and others during a global pandemic.

“Our Saturday mornings in the forest are so restorative for my body and soul — and during this pandemic, they’re also keeping me sane.” – Fran

Is it safe? That’s a key question, of course, and some of our members have not yet come back because of their concerns. On the minus side, we don’t wear masks, and we know that even people without symptoms might be spreading the virus, especially with all that heavy breathing. In fact, it appears that people are most contagious 24-48 hours before they feel sick, yikes!

Fortunately our forest group has many more factors on the plus side. We limit participation and stay at least 6 feet apart, usually much more. Sunlight is a quick and effective virus killer. Most importantly, the airflow outdoors prevents viral particles from concentrating. As top German expert Christian Drosten noted on Das Coronavirus-Podcast (love that), you’re 17 times less likely to catch the virus outdoors compared to indoors, with similar human contact.

Did you hear about the Zuid-Holland bar in the Netherlands? People were ignoring social distancing rules, but the bar was open to the street with good ventilation. At 11 pm, the doors and windows were closed due to noise regulations — and 31 coronavirus cases were reported, all of them among people who were present after 11 pm, according to the owners. Keep that air flowing!

What benefits do we gain from our workouts? Of course, we interact with actual humans face to face, in 2020! Social isolation is not only unpleasant but dangerous. As mentioned in this article, a survey showed that “virtual social gatherings failed to reduce loneliness among 48 percent, and actually increased loneliness among 10 percent of respondents.” Sorry Zoom! My online workshops, Laughter Wellness and Mindfulness groups can only go so far.

“The best thing that the Forest workout does for me is that I can exercise out in the beautiful nature with an energetic, creative instructor, listening to great music and with a group of friends.  Nothing can beat this.  I feel refreshed and content after every forest workout.” – Haiman

(Aw shucks, thank you Haiman!)

Our forested park is a bit scruffy but we are out in nature, under trees and surrounded by greenery (or brownery, in some months). It’s becoming increasingly clear that humans feel better when exposed to plants, animals and natural landscapes, and are more stressed when isolated from nature — there’s even a name for it: nature-deficit disorder .

Hospital gardens and even a view of nature out a window seem to help patients heal faster and even need less pain medication. Note: If you have a yard and want to create outdoor spaces to help your kids grow up without nature-deficit disorder, I highly recommend this awesome book by my friend Nancy Striniste!

“It’s a pure healthy joyful fun great awesomeness hour, with healthy guru Instructor Patricia in heavenly surroundings and among beautiful loving friends!” – Our super-enthusiastic participant Troella

Great Group on the Grass

Of course exercise itself has pretty much every benefit you can imagine, including sexual health and improving our judgment, oh yeah! Plus we do all sorts of joyful things in the forest like throw chunks of wood, balance on the benches, drum with sticks, dance, laugh, and mindfully contract our back muscles and glutes to a great song by a brilliant Indigenous Australian musician.

Practicing our ancestral skills spearing a woolly mammoth

If you live near Falls Church, VA, please join me sometime! If you don’t, here’s some basic advice from me in case you could use a nudge 🙂

  • Keep getting at least the recommended 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity exercise, even if it is just walking, climbing stairs and following along with online Zumba, yoga, or whatever you enjoy. It’s a key to protecting your emotional and physical health during this stressful year.
  • Get outside every day, even if the weather isn’t cooperating. Find a park or just a patch of green. If you’re quarantined, spend some mindful time gazing out the window and with pets and houseplants if you have them.
  • Move your body in a variety of ways every day. Think “anti-sitting” — move your arms and legs behind you, lift and carry things (safely!), use resistance bands for pulling, dance in your living room, and get up and down from the floor.
  • Find opportunities for physical play. Movement should be enjoyable so you’ll keep doing it. If organized sports, classes, gyms and pools are not available, how else can you enjoy the experience of having a body? 🙂 Maybe ride your bike, throw a football with a friend, do some trail running, rent a kayak, hike up a hill, play tennis, get out on a playground to hang and climb and stretch … what else have you found? Please share in the comments below! Thanks very much for reading my blog, and I hope you are staying well, safe and active!

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