Staying active while practicing social distancing

Tuesday, March 24, 2020
According to Dickinson County Conservation Board Community Relations Coordinator Kiley Roth, Dickinson County has a plethora of outdoor recreation opportunities for area residents who want to get outside while practicing self isolation and distancing.
(Photos by Kiley Roth)

With worldwide concern over the COVID-19 pandemic on the rise, many Dickinson County residents have chosen to self isolate and practice social distancing in an attempt to reduce the virus' spread. While health officials advise this is the best way to slow the pandemic, many local experts say this is not a time to remain sedentary, as exercise is key to maintaining a healthy body and mind.

"In times of stress, which I think it is safe to say we are in, everyone benefits from exercise, as it lowers cortisol levels and helps keep you calm," Dickinson County Public Health Medical Director Zach Borus said. "Additionally, as we are kept indoors, we are more prone to stress eating and overeating in general, and exercise can help mitigate some of the associated health effects."

With the closure of gyms and other health facilities across the state, including the Bedell Family YMCA in Spirit Lake, the ability for citizens to remain active has been hindered. However, YMCA Programs Operations Director Scott Hunter says it is imperative that people remain active.

"If you're someone who needs to lower blood pressure or cholesterol or is just trying to manage your weight, it is essential at this point to stay active," Hunter said. "I see so many people here at the YMCA who have made leaps and bounds from the first day they decided to come into the facility and I would hate to think of those people saying, 'Well, the YMCA's doors are shut. I guess I'm just going to turn off my fitness plan until they open back up,' because I have no idea when that's going to be. It's important for us to relay that message to people that, just because the doors are shut at the health facilities and gyms, it doesn't mean that we shouldn't still be doing these things."


Hunter said the Bedell Family YMCA has switched its point of emphasis from attempting to get people into the facility to trying to help them through digital services such as the YMCA's Facebook page in order to serve people who are spending more time at home.

"We are going to try to make this as easy as possible for people," he said. "We already have a plethora of interactive videos that we post and you can find those anywhere. You don't necessarily have to go to our Facebook page to see them. We are also going to start doing some videos with the trainers at the YMCA, so you will have a friendly face and someone that you're used to seeing every day when you come and take these fitness classes. We'll have them doing different workout videos and posting them on Facebook so people can follow along."

Hunter said the key for the average person with limited exercise equipment at home is to focus on basic movements.

"Even if you do (have your own exercise equipment), studies have shown that the best movements are going to be bodyweight movements like push-ups, squats and planks," he said. "These are great exercises because most people already know how to do all of those things. If they don't, it is very easy to find instructional videos online."

Hunter also said this is a good opportunity for regular gym-goers to switch up their routines.

"It's not possible to completely replicate a gym workout as far as the movement patterns go, but I honestly think this is a good time for people to change their routine," he said. "One thing that we have become very aware of is that the body adapts very quickly to what we're doing. If you're coming in and doing the same workout routine, using the same weights every day, you're going to plateau, your body is going to adjust and you're not going to get a lot of benefit from it. This is a great opportunity for people to try some bodyweight movements that maybe they haven't done before. If we're talking about more advanced movements, something like burpees, jump squats, lunges, plank raises or plank plyos. Now is a great time to try a different workout."

In addition to the YMCA's digital offerings, many more facilities and instructors are offering online classes, according to Borus.

"For people who are staying at home, a number of our local sports and fitness and wellness locations are offering online classes," he said. "Yoga Okoboji, The Studio, The District and the YMCA have information on their Facebook pages. Other options would be app-based or web-based exercise classes and providers like Beachbody, Peleton, Planet Fitness, Tone It Up and others, many of which are offering free trials during the COVID outbreak."


While early spring weather in northwest Iowa can vary, Dickinson County Conservation Board Community Relations Coordinator Kiley Roth believes area residents can benefit from the county's various outdoor recreation areas and activities.

"Dickinson County is a great place to spend time outdoors, and many outdoor areas are easily accessible," Roth said. "We always say there isn't bad weather, just bad clothes. In the springtime, just be prepared for outdoor conditions. That means dressing in layers and wearing waterproof boots. You can go for a walk, take binoculars and see what birds are migrating through the area, go for a cross country run, turn your regular gym routine into an outdoor routine, play disc golf, climb a tree, the opportunities are endless if you use your imagination. If you want some more directed activity ideas, we have plenty of ideas on our website, including going for a shape or a color walk, leaf identification guides, nature bingo, a spring scavenger hunt and more."

Roth said the county has more than 10 parks and other areas with plenty of outdoor opportunities.

"Horseshoe Bend Wildlife Area has several miles worth of trails on a variety of terrain, and just one mile south from that is the Judd Wildlife Area, which features virgin prairie," she said. "Westport Park near Everly has a 10-acre pond that may be drawing in migrating waterfowl this time of year. Of course, Kenue Park also has a wide variety of offerings. Although the Dickinson County Nature Center is closed if you take care to social distance away from other park users feel free to utilize our outdoor opportunities. We have a Nature Playscape with stumps to climb, an underground tunnel, a swinging bridge, a treehouse and more for the kids. We also have mowed trails through our prairie and around the wetland, which also has an observation tower to view the rehabilitated trumpeter swans that live on the wetland year-round. There is also the 18-hole Okoboji Gold Disc Golf Course, which would be a great way to pass the time. In addition to what we have, we are blessed in Dickinson County to also have many state and federal wildlife areas to explore."

Borus said the outdoors is a great place to spend time, especially as the weather improves, but said it is important that people follow general health guidelines while out and about.

"General guidelines are to stay more than six feet away from other people if possible, and to greet others from a distance if you see them while out," he said. "I'm generally recommending against kids playing on playground equipment at this point because the virus can live on metal and plastic for at least a number of hours and kids put their hands on their faces quite frequently. This is obviously up to parent/guardian discretion, and hands should be sanitized frequently."


According to Borus, social isolation and distancing is challenging for everyone's mental health.

"We are social animals," Borus said. "Paying attention to your physical and mental health is key to getting through this difficult time. If you are not physically able to do significant exercise, perhaps do some free meditation programs available online to help with focusing and centering and stress reduction. Any bit you can to take care of yourself will pay dividends."

Hunter echoed those sentiments.

"Don't lose hope," he said "This is a great opportunity to continue to work on yourself. For me, the biggest thing is about having mental clarity and being able to work out and exercise at home to relieve stress with all that is going on in the world today."

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