The world was flipped upside-down when COVID-19 spread to the U.S., weaving its way into the fabric of human life and social connection. But humans have a weapon to fight against the negative effects that come with social isolation — the outdoors.
Many large cities in Texas issued shelter-in-place orders, directing individuals to stay home to decrease the spread of the virus. Though social isolation is great for slowing the spread of the virus, the resulting loneliness can cause higher stress levels, increased depression, impaired immunity and other negative health impacts.
As days go by without social relationships, our mental and physical health is at risk. Luckily, the outdoors can counter those ill effects (still keeping in mind appropriate social distancing). Being in or around nature has shown time and time again to produce positive health effects in humans.
In a study conducted by the University of Exeter in England, researchers found that people who spent more time outdoors were less likely to feel anxiety or depression. Another study found that exposure to sun rays was associated with lower blood pressure. People who feel more connected to nature tend to feel more life satisfaction, vitality and general happiness.
Though it is not fully proven, some evidence suggests that vitamin D from sunlight may even help protect individuals from becoming infected with, and developing symptoms of, coronavirus.
Forest bathing, or nature therapy, has become a popular technique to promote the health benefits of being outside. Exposure to green space has been proven to induce relaxation.
Since COVID hit, people have been taking the opportunity to explore the outdoors more. A survey conducted by Civic Science found that 43 percent of Americans 13 years or older said they would be participating in more outdoor activities because of social distancing rules.
Most Texas state parks are open, though some restrictions and capacity limits are in place. “No one is more pleased than us to welcome more outdoor enthusiasts back into state parks as part of the continued reopening of Texas,” said Carter Smith, executive director of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. “Even in this limited capacity, we are glad that we can get more Texans and their families safely back on the trails and in the campsites to enjoy all the many unique spaces and places that make Texas state parks so special.”
People are also interacting with outdoor spaces closer to home. Leave No Trace, an outdoor nonprofit, conducted a survey on how COVID-19 has affected the way individuals spend time outdoors and found that there was a decrease in participation level in travel-based activities, such as camping, climbing and backpacking, while activities that could be conducted in a residential area, such as running, birding and gardening, increased.
These closer-to-home activities still prove to be effective, as humans need only two hours minimum per week outside to reap the benefits. Even merely looking out the window increases satisfaction and decreases stress. Birding from the comfort of your neighborhood also promotes better mental health.
So what can you do during this time to combat the stress and fatigue that follows social isolation? Go outside! You don’t need to travel far to find the peace that nature provides — all you have to do is simply walk out the door.
And while you're outside, whether in your backyard or elsewhere in Texas, why not enter our In The Wild Hood photo contest! Submit photos of the wild see you see all around you and submit them online in one easy step.
To learn more about all the outdoor wonders that Texas has to offer, subscribe to Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine. For a limited time enjoy three months of digital access to 600+ articles and our expanded 2020 Summer issue - all for only $1.99!
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