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Staying Active During Social Distancing - Hiking the Neighborhood

Updated: Jul 7, 2021

April 1st, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected all of our lives dramatically. As I write, most of us living are under strict social distancing and stay-at-home ordinances. While these measures are absolutely necessary to protect all of us during the pandemic, the side effect of isolating behavior is, well, a feeling of isolation.

Here I’d like to contribute to the discussion about staving off isolation and remaining active, but I in no way want to undercut how important it is that we follow all social distancing recommendations, for as long as necessary. As Ed Yong explained in the most clear and succinct way that I’ve seen to date, if you’re not in someway involved in the medical response to COVID-19 (designated ‘Group A’), then you are in ‘Group B.’ Right now, Group B’s duty is vital: to “buy Group A more time” so that our healthcare system does not collapse.

If you’re keeping your distance, staying home as much as possible, and only venturing out for what’s necessary, then you’re doing your job. One of those necessities is remaining active. But how do we remain active, while following all social distancing protocols? And why is staying active so important?

National and State Park Facilities Closed

Spring is here, which means many of us had camping, hiking, and various outdoor trips already planned for the year (I know I did!). However, as the situation surrounding the pandemic is evolving by the minute, so are individual park closures.

Maintaining social distancing on the hiking trail.
Stacia and I maintaining our distance on the trail!

Over the March 21st-22nd weekend my wife and I planned to travel south to Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument to explore the various ruins left by both Spanish and Pueblo peoples. When I checked on Friday the 20th, the National Monument had closed its visitor centers and facilities, but the monument itself was still open to visitors. Instead of visiting on Saturday, we decided to get some chores done and then set off for the monument early on Sunday. When Sunday arrived, I neglected to re-check the monument website before we embarked on the hour-long car ride toward Mountainair, New Mexico, only to be surprised by “Park Closed” signs as we arrived at the gates of the Quarai ruins.

Most National and State Parks are abiding by local regulations. Not all National and State Parks are closed, but more and more are closing by the day. Before you head out to one of these parks, be sure to check online to see if that park is still open. The National Park Service updates its website daily.

Exercise is essential to individual health, and social distancing (or physical distancing) is essential to the success of our healthcare system and the lives of all Americans.

Also, think before you head out. There’s a reason the government is recommending people stay home: to reduce the spread of the virus. In other words, it’s best not to be driving too far outside of your neighborhood so that you’re not responsible for adding to that spread. On top of that, many of the staff at these parks are being told to stay home, just like you, which means we all have an even greater responsibility to protect these public places and their upkeep (by reducing traffic).

City Parks, Open Spaces, BLM Lands and National Forest Trail

Okay so if you’re not going to travel to one of these scenic, protected public parks, where are you going to go? Honestly, the key is that you remain close to home. The quicker we stop the spread of the virus, the sooner we’ll all be able to travel to all the destinations on our lists.

That means being creative! I’m lucky to be in New Mexico where outdoor recreation opportunities are plentiful in nearly every direction, even in the most populous city in the state. The city of Albuquerque has thousands of acres of parks and designated Open Spaces with trails in such diverse landscapes from the foothills of the Sandia Mountains to the flat, cottonwood-covered terrain beside the Rio Grande.

Cibola National Forest with a view of the Sandia Mountains

Additionally, in my experience, National Forests and BLM land tend to be less crowded than city parks and open spaces. Please remember, however, that just as staffing is limited at National and State Parks, access to help in an emergency may also be limited so it’s best to avoid high risk areas when planning your outdoor recreation.

Remaining Active, especially with Arthritis and Ankylosing Spondylitis

If you don’t have access to National Forests, BLM land, or public Open Spaces nearby, then I recommend mapping several loops you can make in and around your neighborhood. My wife and I have three loops mapped out, each of varying distance, that begin at our doorstep and weave through our neighborhood. We walk one of these three loops nearly every day, and choose which loop we take based on how my joints are feeling.

Walking trail in Albuquerque with a view of the Sandia Mountains

It’s especially important to remain active with Ankylosing Spondylitis because exercise helps loosen joints and reduce inflammation. As the American Hiking Society points out, “regular exercise not only improves our overall health and fitness, but lengthens and improves the quality of our lives.” Hiking and walking are good choices of activity for those of us with arthritis because it’s low impact, but still helps you burn calories and strengthen muscles.

All in all, be sure to stay healthy during this trying time. Exercise is essential to individual health, and social distancing (or physical distancing) is essential to the success of our healthcare system and the lives of all Americans.

Hike a trail, or take a walk in your neighborhood, but be sure to stay close to home, choose trails that aren’t crowded, choose trails that are wide so that you can pass fellow hikers while still maintaining your distance, and for goodness sake, wash your hands!



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