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  • MCALLISTER: For the sake of our mental health, it’s time to let people get outdoors

    Mcallister opinion

    We need to consider all the ways we can open nature up for Albertans, because our collective health depends on it.

    These are unsettling and uncertain times, and our brains are working overtime to try and sort it all out. All this self-isolating, stay inside, and keep your distance stuff is taking its toll on us, and it is not good. Humans do not thrive under these conditions and the fear caused by Covid-19 has already deeply impacted our mental health.

    A study by Qualtrics found that stress and the fallout of that stress is up across the board. 66.9 per cent of workers in this study reported higher levels of stress, while anxiety was up by a quarter. The impact of these conditions is adding up.

    In times of stress some people turn to healthy behaviors, while others may turn to addition, domestic violence, or child abuse. In Ottawa for example, new specialized services are opening up just to deal with the influx of those seeking help in unsafe homes. This is not just a blip, it’s a crisis.

    We shouldn’t be surprised. Telling people to suddenly stop everything that is familiar to them is tough – not inappropriate given the circumstances – but tough. You can see it in the faces and hear it in the voices of our public officials. They are under a tremendous amount of strain. And they are said to be the strong ones. What about those that were already suffering with anxiety and depression? These are indeed troubling times.

    So what should we do? What can we do?

    The answer might be right in our backyard. One landmark study that examined the results of 140 other studies found that nature is precisely what the doctor ordered – plenty of green space and time to explore the great outdoors. For some it might mean a new routine that includes a rigorous jog with a few push-up intervals thrown in. For others, maybe it’s just a healthy walk around the cul-de-sac or the dog park. But whatever we do, we can’t just sit on the couch with the TV on. In fact, that might be the worst thing we can do.

    While most forms of leisure are closed, Albertans have access to some of the best natural spaces in one of the most beautiful countries on planet earth, if we’re allowed to go outside and enjoy it. The fresh air and blue skies, and spring like temperatures (they are coming, eventually) might be just what the doctor ordered.  

    Hippocrates said, “If you are in a bad mood, go for a walk. If you are still in a bad mood, go for another walk.” It’s amazing how a little walk in nature can restore our frame of mind and help us get centered on what matters. 

    And there are activities we can do that allow us to social distance. 

    If we are going to get back to some form of normalcy, governments would be wise to open our national and provincial parks. Not so we can pack trails like sardines, but properly social distance while enjoying the great outdoors. If can manage this at Costco, surely we can figure out how to manage it outside?

    We might even get creative and find a backroad or quiet path to stretch out and get the heart pumping until the powers that be open our parks safely. And what about golfing, hunting or fishing?  We can go for a walk while hitting that little white ball and keep our distance from others. Golf courses are talking about serious new protocol to ensure social distancing and to prevent the spread of Covid-19. This seems entirely logical. And when the season opens, go fishing.

    The great outdoors might be the best relief we can find in these tragic days and the longer this lasts the more important it is to our mental and physical health to get outside and get some exercise.

    We need to consider all the ways we can open nature up for Albertans, because our collective health depends on it. Let’s get through this together and not inadvertently prepare ourselves to jump right into another major health issue.

    Bruce McAllister is a columnist for the Western Standard, Executive Director Rocky View 2020 & is the former Wildrose and PC MLA for Chestermere-Rockyview