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Amid COVID-19 fears, the CDC, CPW welcome Coloradans to responsibly exercise outside

Many benefits to exercising in Colorado's parks
Posted: 12:41 PM, Mar 24, 2020
Updated: 2020-03-26 11:50:12-04
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Denver’s stay-at-home order begins Tuesday afternoon to help cut down on the number of novel coronavirus cases, but health officials are still encouraging Coloradans to get outside and exercise, as long as they do so in a safe and responsible manner.

First and foremost: No matter what, if you feel sick, stay home. It will help both you and your community.

But if you are healthy and wish to be outside for a purpose — not just to hang out — that’s allowed under the definition of “essential activities” in the order. In other words, you’re welcome to soak up that vitamin D if you follow a few new rules.

According to the stay-at-home order, which goes into effect Tuesday at 5 p.m. and will continue through April 10 at the earliest, avoid crowds and practice social distancing from other people by at least six feet, if not more. In addition, Colorado Parks and Wildlife is asking Coloradans to avoid visiting places that are too remote. First responders already have their hands full with COVID-19 and while search and rescue teams are ready to help if need be, they could get overloaded if the number of calls increase and available responders decrease, CPW said.

In addition, all sport games and group activities in Denver are no longer permitted.

Obeying these rules while satisfying a crave for outdoor exercise and fresh air will not only help you stay healthy, but will prevent too many cases from happening at the same time, which would overload the state’s medical resources.

Why should I get outside? What are the benefits?

Research shows that spending time outside and in nature has multiple physical and mental benefits, ranging from lowering stress to boosting morale. So, CPW is encouraging those who are able to safely participate in outdoor activities to do so.

During a stressful time such as this, it’s important to find healthy ways to strengthen your body, both physically and mentally. That, in turn, can help boost your immune system.

Staying indoors for multiple days or weeks at a time can be stressful for some, which not only weakens your immune system, according to the Cleveland Clinic, but can also cause depression and anxiety. Too much stress leads to too much cortisol in your body, decreasing your white blood cells that help fight off infections. This puts you at a higher risk for getting a virus.

Daily exercise — especially outside — not only reduces anxiety, but increases your body strength to fight off those infections.

Exercising outdoors also means you’re getting sun exposure, which is the most natural way to get vitamin D. Vitamin D helps the body keep a well-functioning immune system, according to CPW.

Being outside can boost your immune system in another way too: A study published by US National Library of Medicine shows that if you breathe in the airborne chemicals that plants give off, called phytoncides, it can reduce blood pressure and boost immune functioning, CPW said.

"Fresh air does everybody good," said fitness instructor and Children's Hospital Colorado ICU nurse, Shannon Becker. "When you think about trying to stay healthy in terms of building immunity to fight a potential virus, exercise is one of them."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said even among this pandemic, the benefits of exercise in general still stand:
· Reduces risk of depression
· Lowers risk of blood pressure
· Lowers risk of a stroke
· Improves mental health
· Improves cognitive function
· Reduces arthritis symptoms
· Prevents weight gain
· Reduce risk of cardiovascular disease
· Strengthen bones and muscles
· Reduces risk of some cancers

Click here to read more about the benefits of regular physical exercise on the CDC’s website.

What can and can’t I do while outside?

The same rules that have applied over the past week apply outdoors as well, no matter where you live in Colorado.

No matter if you’re on the greenway, sidewalk, trail or other path, stay at least six feet away from other people at all times. Don’t travel in large groups.

"Since it's so big here, it's really easy to stay away from people," said Cali Gonzalez who was working out at Red Rocks Amphitheater on Tuesday. "You can do your workout without having to get too close."

If you can, try to visit the parks or outdoor areas during off-times, or when most people aren’t also out enjoying them. And be prepared to adjust your plans if you arrive somewhere and it’s crowded, CPW said.

While discussing the details of the stay-at-home order, Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock said the city noticed high activity in local parks, including sport games and picnics. Those are no longer allowed. Playgrounds, basketball courts, volleyball courts, picnic areas and other spots where groups of people would gather are now closed.

Click here to read the stay-at-home order in full. Outdoor activity is mentioned on Page 5.

What’s the status of Colorado’s national parks, state parks?

As of Thursday, two national parks in the state has closed, but the remaining two and all 41 state parks are still open as of Tuesday morning.

Rocky Mountain National Park closed to the public on March 20 until further notice. The closure is in effect 24/7. You can still access RMNP’s park webcams here if you want to experience the park from afar.

The mayor of Estes Park, Todd Jirsa, wrote in a letter to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt recently advocating for a complete shutdown of Rocky Mountain National Park.

"A continued influx of visitors at this critical time presents a grave public health concern to Estes Park," the letter read. "We have an older, high-risk population with many retirees and limited critical resources."

In addition, Mesa Verde National Park closed Wednesday at sunset.

As of Tuesday morning, the state’s three other national parks — Sand Dunes National Park, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and Mesa Verde National Park — are all open, however the visitor centers and other facilities are closed. All visitors must have a national parks pass or pay the one-day entrance fee.

While all Colorado state parks are open, the public will have restricted access to visitor centers, service centers and offices. Campgrounds and their bathrooms and public areas are still open.

Anybody who visits a state park must have a state parks pass or purchase one at the self-serve pay stations near each park’s entrance.

Denver city parks are still open as of now, though park amenities — like playgrounds, golf courses, basketball courts, dog parks and more — are closed.

Where should I go?

That’s up to you, where you live and what sort of activities you want to participate in.

But CPW has asked that you stay in the area where you live, meaning Front Range residents should stay in the Front Range parks and avoid traveling to high country.

Need some ideas? Check out the below resources to plan your next outing along the Front Range:
· COTREX (Colorado Trail Explorer) app and website
· Denver Parks and Recreation website
· Hiking Project app and website
· AllTrails app and website
· Jefferson County Open Space website
· Lakewood parks
· Fort Collins parks website
· Boulder parks website and Boulder County Trails app

When you go out, bring enough water and appropriate shoes and clothing for the weather and expected forecast.

And before you head out the door, here’s a refresher on trail etiquette from CPW: Bicyclists and walkers yield to equestrians. Bicyclists yield to walkers. Downhill users must yield to uphill users. Faster users yield to slower users. Keep your dog on a leash and bring bags to pick up and carry out their waste.

Remember, COVID-19 can’t be spread through a smile. CPW is reminding people to be kind and say hello to others while exploring the outdoors during this time.