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House Call: Get outside for exercise, but keep your distance

UPDATED: Wed., May 13, 2020

The Centennial Trail, like this stretch in Spokane Valley shown in 2018, is a good place to get outside and exercise. Just make sure to stay at least 6 feet away from anyone not in your household. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
The Centennial Trail, like this stretch in Spokane Valley shown in 2018, is a good place to get outside and exercise. Just make sure to stay at least 6 feet away from anyone not in your household. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
By Dr. Bob Riggs For The Spokesman-Review

Now that we have more clarity on our reentry into the new normal, it’s important to make sure we continue to be safe and prepared. Everyone is eager to get out and do – well, everything! But we live in a new world, and we’ve been cooped up for months, so as deep as our desire is to get back to our normal activities, it’s important to stay illness- and injury-free as we emerge from our virtual and domestic shells.

Let’s start with what we can safely do right now. The best advice is to think in terms of maintaining social distance – just because something is open doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to go there. We all know how busy our parks can get on a sunny day, so it’s better to make a different choice if the space is full of people.

Hiking and exploring trails and parks, with continued social distancing, are good first steps back to moving your body through walking, jogging or other exercises. They provide the dual benefit of exercise and time in nature, supporting mental health in these stressful times.

While out, be mindful of surfaces that many people touch – now is not yet the time to use that outdoor exercise equipment or the playground. Gyms will begin reopening in coming weeks, but it’s important to be thoughtful about high-touch surfaces and disinfecting those treadmills and weights before and after you use them.

I’ve been walking in Riverfront Park at lunch and on local trails on my days off and staying a good 6 to 8 feet away from others as I do it. Even if I’m walking with a friend, we stay a safe distance from each other. I don’t go into other’s houses. On nice days, I’ve had conversations while outside, but I’m staying at least 6 (and more like 8 to 10) feet apart.

Now let’s talk about how to avoid injury. It’s important to take time to stretch, holding each stretch for 20 seconds, particularly if it’s been a while since you last participated in the activity. Start with a reasonable pace, and slowly increase as your workout progresses.

We can’t forget we’re still in the midst of a pandemic. Make sure you’re protecting yourself while you’re out. I wear a mask every time I’m in public, which I recommend for everyone. Remember, people: Wearing a mask is as much or more about protecting others from you should you have a symptomless or pre-symptomatic infection as it is about protecting yourself.

If we all do it, we are all safer. Regardless, you want to make sure to keep social distancing at least 6 feet. Remember that as people are moving, germs can trail behind them, too. If you’re walking, rolling or running on the street, make sure you stay visible with bright, reflective clothing. If you’re on a bicycle, wear your helmet.

Because you don’t want to use public water fountains, bring a water bottle with you, keeping in mind that water is the best hydration option – skip those sugary sports drinks. If you are going to a gym or using equipment, plan ahead to make sure you’ll have a way to clean the equipment before and after use. Wipes or hand sanitizer will work great.

Let’s enjoy our spring sunshine and get out there and move our bodies. Just make sure to keep it safe!

Bob Riggs is a family medicine physician at Kaiser Permanente’s Riverfront Medical Center. His column appears biweekly in The Spokesman-Review.

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