Get outside and play! It’s May!

Fitness Challenge Logo

It’s May. I spent Sunday swapping over my winter and summer clothes. I have lots of happy summer thoughts in my head. It was also Cheddar’s six year adoption anniversary.

Here’s puppy Cheddar:

Even the pandemic is looking up. See Dr. Anne-Marie Zajdlik’s round up. This week it’s pretty good news, “Fasten your seat belts! This ride is almost over. It’s time to imagine a post-COVID world.” See here.

And at my work, at the University of Guelph, it’s Be Well, Be Safe Week in recognition of National Mental Health Week and North American Occupational Safety and Health Week.

Part of that is the university’s kickoff of our May fitness challenge. It’s our Get Outside Fitness Challenge and I’ll be taking part.

Here’s more info about what we can and can’t do outside in Ontario during the Stay at Home orders.

Outdoor Activity during Ontario’s Stay At Home:
Under the provincial government mandate of Stay at Home orders, outdoor exercise or walking your pet is considered an approved activity. To ensure you are exercising safely and following provincial rules please follow these guidelines during this challenge:

– Only workout with those in your same household or alone
– If you are in a park where you may come into closer contact while walking, please wear a mask.
– If you bring a mat and find a spot on some grass to be outside, please ensure you are 3m away from anyone else on all sides.
– Don’t forget to bring your water bottle to stay hydrated
– Wash your hands when you get home and wipe down any equipment you brought with you.

Physical benefits of outdoor exercise: 

Exercise in nature has a more positive effect on blood pressure and mood than exercise in a gym
Being in nature has been found to lower blood pressure, strengthen the immune system, help mitigate disease, and reduce stress levels
Athletes who run or walk on nature trails have reported less fatigue after a 20-minute run than they did following a run on an indoor track.

Mental benefits:

Activities in nature resulted in reduced negative emotions (e.g., anger, fatigue and sadness) as compared to similar activities in a human-made environment
A daily walk in nature can be as effective in treating mild cases of depression as taking an antidepressant
Runners reported lower levels of stress and depression when exercising in nature than when exercising in an urban setting.”

The following pictures are what turn up when you search for outdoor exercise:

Here’s how to join:

“The weather is getting nicer so we want to encourage you to move outdoors for 30 minutes EVERY DAY from May 1st – 31st. What is your movement of choice? We want to see what you are doing to stay active. Take a pic and tag us @gryphons_fitness every time you do. For every picture we receive, you get an additional ballot added to a draw to win prizes. The more pictures, the more chance to win! Contest closes May 31st at midnight.


Step One: Download our GryphFit App to join the challenge

Apple Store here, Google Play here

Step Two: Join the challenge on the “Challenge” icon in the app

Step Three: Walk, run, jog, do yoga, dance, play with your pet… the list goes on.  It’s simple: GET OUTSIDE and move.  You choose how. Don’t forget to take a picture and tag us @gryphons_fitness to show us how you are spending your time outdoors. Contest runs May 1st – 31st.

Step Four: Be entered into a draw to win a Matrix Fitness prize pack worth $300! Winner will be announced on June 1st, 2021.”


What really is okay for exercising outside?

“I just wish someone would give us clear guidelines,” someone said to me the other day. “There’s so much contradictory information!”

It’s true. At this point in the pandemic, every jurisdiction seems to have slightly different guidelines for outdoor activity. In Canada alone, every province is different. Consider this weekend. Bonnie Henry, the provincial health officer of British Columbia, said “Please, go outside…The risk that somebody who is sick spreads this virus from coughing or sneezing outside and you walk by them very quickly, even when it is within six feet, that risk is negligible…. We always say ‘never say never’ in medicine, but the risk would be infinitesimally small.” Nova Scotia opened up its provincial trails and other outdoor activities like driving ranges, with “caution”. Most other provinces had similar advice, with appropriate cautions. But the Chief Medical Officer of Toronto “lamented” stories of people going outside, and our biggest park was closed for the weekend to keep people from congregating to see the cherry blossoms, giving us a “bloomcam” instead.

So how do we make sense of this? For the past six weeks, we’ve heard “sledgehammer” messages that the only responsible choice is to stay inside; this has led to the kind of conflict between runners and other people we normally only see between cyclists and cars. We’ve seen social media shaming and outright animosity, like this sign in NYC’s lower east side:

To try to detangle some of this, I interviewed Dr. Michael Gardam, an infectious disease specialist and Chief of Staff at Humber River Hospital in Toronto, and a frequent voice on CBC and Global TV. (He’s also a colleague of mine). I asked him a few specific questions from our blogger team about his perspective on outdoor movement.

What is the actual risk of spreading covid19 by exercising outside?

“It is extremely unlikely that viral transmission would happen outside without close contact — you would basically have to be right in someone’s face and that would be a really weird thing to do with a stranger.” He added, “this virus is actually pretty wimpy, and it is either killed pretty quickly by UV or dispersed by the wind.” In other words, it’s a lot safer to exercise outside than inside, but to be safe, you need to maintain that two metre distance.

What about people who are so frightened of transmission that they see all runners as a threat?

“People are frightened, and we all need to be kind and do our part to give each other space. If you’re running, it’s better for you to be the one moving out of the way if you can, because you’re going faster. Now isn’t the time to claim your turf on the sidewalk. Be kind.”

“Is the virus actually spread “in the air”?

“If this virus were airborne, we’d all have it. We are talking about droplet transmission, which lingers on surfaces, and can be directly transmitted if we are panting right in someone’s face. Think about what it’s like in a crossfit class, with all that sweating and panting — you don’t want to be doing that. But outside, transmission is extremely unlikely.”

What about swimming? Should pools be opening up?

“In a swimming pool, the chlorine would kill the virus — the issue would be with people breathing hard too closely on you. Pools should be low risk if the number of people in them is limited and you aren’t touching other people or their stuff in the change room.”

What about vigorous vs. lighter exercise? Does that make a difference?

Again, the risk of transmitting this virus outside without direct contract is almost infinitesimal — it doesn’t matter how vigorously you’re moving as long as you maintain some distance. It could make a difference inside, though– think about that sweat and moisture I mentioned before.

So you think we should still be exercising?

Absolutely — from a mental health and overall health perspective, we need to keep moving. We should be creating more space for people to move around outside, safely. We need to be thoughtful about other people’s fear, but that means leaving them space and moving responsibly.

Why are there so many different messages?

“The lockdown of the past few weeks was aimed at making sure that we didn’t have such a surge in cases that our health system was overwhelmed. In Ontario, we’ve escaped that — both because people have observed social distancing and because the hospital system did excellent preparation to reduce everything but the most essential care. With a new infectious disease like this, we want to slow down transmission so we don’t all get it at once, so we can learn more about the virus and who is most susceptible, how to treat people who are ill, give us some time to get the science ramped up, and so we can keep our health system functioning. We have never had to do this before — so the basic message of “stay home” is the simplest. But as we open things up gradually, we will need to each take some accountability for resuming activity in a thoughtful way. We need to maintain physical distance for a while, but that doesn’t mean not moving. It just means being responsible in how we do it.”


You can follow Michael on twitter at @DrMichaelGardam. And I appreciate his time and insight, so much.

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who went for a happy socially distanced run after their conversation, turning around at the entrance to the closed trail.