Getting exercise is essential, but don’t forget physical distancing

A senior couple takes a quiet walk at Haynes Point (swiws) Provincial Park on Tuesday, April 7, one day before all BC provincial parks were closed. Physical distancing was easy with a wide roadway and the few people who were there were good about physical distancing. (Richard McGuire Photo)

Getting exercise and fresh air is essential for your physical and mental health, even during these times of physical distancing and isolation. More accurately, especially during these times when many people are under stress.

Walking is great exercise that most people can do. It restores the mind and body. I find I sleep better if I’ve had a chance to take a good walk.

But mixed messages from public health authorities have left many people confused about what they can and can’t do to get exercise.

Some interpret the message to “stay home” a little too literally as meaning you shouldn’t step outside your door. Worse, these people sometimes make it their mission to attack others who might go out for fresh air.

But health authorities have been clear that getting outside and exercising is necessary, although you need to adhere to guidelines on physical distancing. Stay at least two metres apart from others and don’t congregate in groups.

“Make sure that you get some exercise, you get some fresh air,” said Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C. Provincial Health Officer, in March. “I think that is important for all of our mental and physical health.”

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, gave similar advice.

“Get fresh air, go for a jog or walk your dog, but always keep two metres distance from other people,” Tam said in March.

The World Health Organization (WHO) also underlines the importance of physical exercise for the body and mind. It can reduce high blood pressure, help manage weight, reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes, and numerous other health benefits.

“Being active during the Covid-19 pandemic is challenging for us all,” WHO says in a March 27 posting titled, Be active during Covid-19. “Because the opportunities to be physically active seem to be more restricted, it is even more important to plan in every day ways to be active and to reduce the time spent sitting for long periods. Put simply, it is a critical time to ensure we all move more and sit less.”

But that doesn’t mean everybody should be out walking. The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) notes several exceptions:

“You can go for a walk if you:

have not been diagnosed with Covid-19;

do not have symptoms of Covid-19;

Have not travelled outside Canada in the past 14 days.”

In Osoyoos, most parks remain open, but there are some exceptions such as play equipment, the dog park, some public washrooms, Desert Park, the skateboard park and several other facilities noted on the Town of Osoyoos website.

Undoubtedly, the most pleasant and one of the safest places to walk in Osoyoos was Haynes Point (swiws) Provincial Park, but that option ended on Wednesday, April 8 when the provincial government closed all of B.C.’s provincial parks.

I walked there on Tuesday, April 7, one day before the closure, and found the park was not crowded and everybody was social distancing. I probably passed about a dozen people, mostly walking as couples. With the wide road and everybody behaving, I found it easy to stay at least four metres from others – double the recommended two metres.

That day, the parking was closed and signs instructed people not to use facilities such as campsites and picnic tables, but you were still allowed to go there for walks.

The following morning, that changed with the province-wide provincial park closure. Now you are not allowed to go beyond the barrier.

The closure was sad, but probably necessary. With the Easter weekend on the way, the province was anxious to stop British Columbians from travelling to other communities. Especially near metropolitan areas, people were visiting provincial parks and not physical distancing.

“With the desire of the public to get outdoors, many parks have already experienced peak season levels of use that have resulted in overwhelmed parking lots, trails and trailheads, making physical distancing difficult, if not impossible in some locations,” the province said in its announcement.

“…The closure is also necessary to ensure the continued health and safety of our visitors, employees, park operators and their staff, volunteers and park contractors,” the announcement continued. “By taking this action, we align with federal and provincial directives for people to stay home to reduce Covid-19 transmission risk.”

People entering provincial parks will be evicted and could be fined $115. For now, the closure remains in effect until May 31.

Essentially, people in Osoyoos were using the park responsibly, but because people elsewhere were irresponsible, the province invoked a province-wide ban. That’s to be expected though – making exceptions for some parks and not others isn’t practical in this situation.

There are other places in Osoyoos for a pleasant walk, though physical distancing often requires someone stepping onto the roadway to maintain a two-metre distance.

Pioneer Walkway is short, but has wonderful views of the lake and flowers are coming up. First crocuses and now daffodils and even a few tulips. Usually it’s not overly crowded, but sometimes there are more people than what’s ideal, so if it’s busy, consider coming back another time. Although the trail is narrow, people are using the parallel bike path to maintain physical distance.

The path along the lake between Gyro Park and Lions Park is also pleasant and is rarely too crowed. It’s easy to step onto the grass to avoid getting too close to others.

The walking and cycling path along Lakeshore Drive makes a good walk. Although the path is fairly wide, it is sometimes necessary to go onto the road in order to maintain proper distance.

Many people in Osoyoos are also cycling to keep themselves exercised and healthy. Most local cycling options require some travel in car traffic, unfortunately.

On my walk at Haynes Point on Tuesday, the day before the park closed, I felt refreshed and invigorated. As I watched the birds and listened to the lapping water, I felt my stress vanish. I slept better that night.

Walking and other exercise are great medicine.

Don’t travel to other communities to exercise, and when you do walk, ensure you maintain two metres physical distancing. But you need to look after your physical and mental health and exercise is essential.

Don’t let the haters try to tell you that you must always stay inside your home!

The sign at the entrance to Haynes Point (swiws) Provincial Park was changed Wednesday, April 8 after the provincial government announced closure of all provincial parks. The sign on Tuesday (left) still permitted walking, but not the use of facilities. The new sign (right) prohibits any entry. (© Richard McGuire Photos)
A mallard couple flew in to Haynes Point (swiws) Provincial Park on Tuesday, April 7 – the day before the province closed all BC Provincial Parks. (© Richard McGuire Photo)
Pioneer Walkway is rarely crowded and the walking space is wide enough to physically distance. (© Richard McGuire Photo)
Flowers such as daffodils and even some tulips are up along Pioneer Walkway. Signs remind people to physically distance. (© Richard McGuire Photo)

Author: Richard McGuire

Richard McGuire is an Osoyoos photographer who worked at the Osoyoos Times between 2012 and 2018, first as reporter and then as editor. He has a long career in journalism as well as research, communication and management at the House of Commons in Ottawa and in the federal government.

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