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STORY PITCH: Staying active during the COVID-19 pandemic

As families head into their second or third week of learning and working from home, it’s easy to fall into the rut of overeating, too much screen time and the couch potato lifestyle.

WVU Tech professors and community partners are offering some tips on how to stay active in a safe way during the COVID-19 pandemic.

T. Grant Lewis and David Bernier are professors in WVU Tech’s Adventure Recreation Management program with decades of combined experience in outdoor adventure. Melanie Seiler is the founding Executive Director of Active Southern West Virginia, a West Virginia Wonder Woman and a student in the ARM program at Tech.  

T. Grant Lewis, Director of the Adventure Recreation Management program at WVU Tech, stand for a photo on campus.T. Grant Lewis, Director and Teaching Assistant Professor, WVU Tech Adventure Recreation Management

On staying active during a stay-at-home order:

“The reminder for people is that 'stay at home' is not an order to 'stay indoors.' You can still practice physical distancing while engaging in activities outside. Consider ways to challenge yourself to 'tune out' from technology, and 'tune in' to the world around you. Those activities can fill a range of levels, from taking a walk around your neighborhood to getting out on a trail, all of which can have powerful health benefits. With regard to that latter point, think about what you have access to locally.”

“While you're out, say hello to other people, make eye contact and wave; just keep the CDC recommended 6 feet of spacing. The idea of social distancing is not about socially isolating ourselves. We still need to take care of one another. Use this an opportunity to be supportive of other people who may simply need to know that they are not alone.”

“Other suggestions for activities:

  • go for a bike ride;
  • have a picnic in your backyard: either make the meal yourselves or support a local restaurant that is offering delivery or pick-up;
  • find somewhere to read a book or listen to music;
  • find somewhere to play a board game or cards;
  • find somewhere to draw or paint;
  • or go on a scavenger hunt and take pictures to make a slide show!”

“If you do find yourself stuck indoors, consider taking a virtual tour of one of the National Parks, or take an online class. Many adventure organizations are offering free online courses in a variety of subjects.”

On the effect of social distancing on the environment:

“In searching for the positives during this time, such as potential benefits, with the decrease in travel we're giving the Earth a chance to breathe on some levels. Recent data indicates that 'virus-related shutdowns are cleaning up air pollution around the globe, with satellite imagery showing drops in certain pollutants of up to 40% in some areas.' And as Backpacker’s Adam Roy points out: 'there's evidence that the air may be getting cleaner not just in cities, but in nature as well.'”

On adventure recreation businesses during the pandemic:

“Many operations in the adventure and outdoor recreation field are small- to medium-sized businesses that rely on clients and patrons to keep their doors open. We certainly want to support those operations in the industry yet need to be cognizant of the ramifications of continuing to potentially spread COVID-19. The recommendations put forth by the CDC should be put into practice, and operations should be following the mandates set forth by their local jurisdiction (either city, county- or state-wide). This may mean temporarily closing your doors in order to protect clients, patrons and staff. We all have an ethical obligation to care for one another, which means doing our part in contributing to 'flatten the curve.'”

“For small businesses suffering during the crises, the U.S. Small Business Administration is offering federal disaster loans.”

Dave Bernier, Assistant Teaching Professor, Adventure Recreation ManagementDavid Bernier, Teaching Assistant Professor, WVU Tech Adventure Recreation Management

On staying active during a stay-at-home order:

“I see this as a time when folks could get out and explore new places that they have yet to see while at the same time staying safe. Looking at the trail maps of the area, there are many trails that are easy to hike to get out in the woods and be either by yourself or with your family to stay active. There are also several Rails to Trails open in the area. We need to keep our distance from others while staying healthy in mind and soul. Being outside in nature and having an adventure is a great way to accomplish that.”

Advice for adventurers who feel cooped up:

“For those adventurers that are getting antsy and are used to getting out and adventuring on a regular basis, the time to plan the next big trip is on! I know that I have started a few lists of places around the globe that I have yet to visit. What better time than now to start a little research on how I might make that trip a reality? How will I sail around the world and what ports do I want to visit? Maybe look at that climbing destination that I have always dreamed of visiting. Planning for the next big trip is the first stage of any adventure and can get you psyched for the future when all this craziness is behind us. Of course, this can all be done from the comfort of your couch.” 

“For those of us who have a bunch of their own adventure gear, this would be a great time to catch up on the maintenance that we have been neglecting for so long. Wash that rope, spray that raft with 303 and adjust those gears. There are as many things to do with that as there are pieces of gear in the shed. I know that would last me at least a few days for each adventure sport I do.” 

Advice for parents:

“For the parents out there looking for things to do with the kids, I think your kids will enjoy any of the things you do if you gear it down for them. Hiking and biking – even starting that garden – are all things that I have fond memories of as a kid with my family. I remember climbing a tree in my front yard all the time, but when I got my mom out there to sit on a low branch, it made it all that much more memorable. Again, these are all things that you can do with kids while keeping a safe distance from others.”   

Melanie Seiler, Executive Director of Active Southern West Virginia, stands for a photograph in a floral shirt, the golden leaves of autumn carpeting the grown behind her. Melanie Seiler, Executive Director, Active Southern West Virginia

On staying active during a stay-at-home order:

“This is a new challenge to staying active with daily routines interrupted, additional stress and limited resources to be active, such as group programs, gyms and traveling. To overcome this barrier, it is important to still prioritize time for physical activity. There is also a large population of health care workers in very stressful situations. It is just as important for them to maintain a strong immune system by staying active. Here are some tips to add activity into your day in fun ways;

  • Anytime a meeting is cancelled, change that time on your calendar to physical activity time just for you. Give it the same weight you planned to give to the meeting you were attending. (i.e. Don't back out of it! It's on your calendar!)
  • Did your meeting get changed to a phone conference? Does that mean you can call in using headphones and walk during your meeting?
  • Make it a game: Every time you hear someone say ‘toilet paper,’ do three squats. Every time you see a coronavirus meme, do five jumping jacks. If you see a legitimate resource shared (e.g. CDC, DHHR, etc.) do 10 high knees.”

On the dangers of long periods of inactivity:

“This interruption to schedules can cause people to be less active and fall out of healthy routines. The human body can experience muscle atrophy in a matter of weeks. This also includes the heart muscle. Keeping our hearts healthy is important to living a long life. When there is a setback or missed goal, that can easily deter someone from getting back into their routine. I think the best advice I can give is to allow yourself to have set backs and give yourself a break if there is a setback. There’s always the next day to meet your expectations.”

Advice for displaced gym goers:

“It’s been amazing to see the online workouts becoming available. Our work at Active Southern West Virginia has shifted to providing online resources. The Active SWV volunteer Community Captains have taken it upon themselves to learn technical skills to produce videos of their group programs so participants can join from the safety of their own homes. These resources are available on our Facebook page and will be provided in our April email newsletter. Additionally, this is a great time to explore outdoors. We are very fortunate in West Virginia to have parks to safely explore trails, waters and open spaces to stay active.”

Advice for parents who want to keep their kids active:

“The local parks and trails are a great place to explore and play. Active Southern West Virginia just compiled a list of stroller-friendly trails in Nicholas, Fayette, Raleigh and Summers counties. We recommend you clean any playground equipment before using it and avoid the temptation to group up with other park visitors. Respect the space and consider the outdoor objects to avoid. On those rainy days, create a play room in the house for board games, puzzles, obstacle courses and free play. Active Southern West Virginia has game playing resources available on our website and recent blog. I am excited to start some landscaping projects with the family that we will enjoy year-round.”

“Here are a few other resources:

On using downtime to start new activities:

“Choose the most productive time of day for you. Some people are morning people and like to jump up with a lot of energy and some folks are more lively in the evenings. Use your prime time to try a new activity. It can be an online workout or a trip to a local park. Start with something simple and short. Plan ahead if going on a trail to have the proper attire, some water and let someone know where you are going. Or start even simpler with a walk around the neighborhood. It’s hard to know what to expect the first time you try something. Go into the activity without being hard on yourself for any level of performance. Just that you are trying something new is a success! Set your goals to attempt to be active for multiple days; one attempt doesn’t justify quitting. This is a difficult time to use social supports to get active, but be creative and post that selfie. Send out a couple texts and reach out to your positive friends to let them know your intentions. Declaring your healthy intentions will be an added boost. Continue to share your ideas with those close to you and ask for their support in helping you to have time to be active. Ask to share chores or child care so you have the personal time you need to keep your heart strong.” 

On maintaining a healthy diet during social distancing:

“This is a challenge! A lot of people have lost their daily structure. My advice is to still stick to regular meal times. Do meal planning and if you still have the opportunity to purchase frozen fruits and vegetables, get stocked up! This can be a great time to introduce youth to meal planning and preparations.”

On additional Active Southern West Virginia community resources:

"Active Southern West Virginia has just launched a resource page with a variety of local resources. It includes information on our Move Your Way campaign, a list of trails in our four-county region and more."