As someone who enjoys staying home, I found myself wanting to go outdoors almost every day during the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic. I would find a different route to walk around my neighbourhood every afternoon. Before the pandemic, I rarely saw people or even cars on my quiet street but suddenly every time I went outside, whether to pick up a package, throw out the garbage or go to the grocery store, I would never fail to see someone walking by.
Soon enough, statements such as “I went on my third walk today”, “I took my dog to a new park”, “I hiked a new trail today”, were starting to spark in conversations. With videos of parks and trails in different neighbourhoods going viral, it felt like the whole world became obsessed with nature. Why did everyone have the sudden urge to go outside during the pandemic?
As someone who lived in residence during my first year of university, I walked to and from almost all my classes. I walked to the library, gym, and dining halls in between my classes. Without realizing, I would be on my feet and outside for at least an hour every day. With the onset of COVID-19, we were suddenly urged to stay home, and our outdoor times were cut short. Therefore, the increase in park numbers was perhaps not a new reaction that everyone had to the pandemic, but rather a replacement for our unintentional outdoor time. When and why did outdoor time become so important to us during the pandemic?
On a personal level, staying home all day, being able to eat 24/7 and not having access to a gym impacted me more than I thought. Soon enough, the bad habits caught up and I was tired all the time. One day, I decided to begin making a daily walk to my community park part of my routine and I immediately started gaining more energy and noticed that my mood drastically improved. A systematic review in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine has shown that when people have access to parks, they are more likely to exercise, which can reduce obesity and adverse effects (Khan et al., 2002). Additionally, the concept that plants have a significant role in mental health is well established in a study done by Howard Frumkin in the American Journal of Public Health (Frumkin, 2003). At a time where many may not have access to home exercise equipment, access to parks became crucial to their health.
Not only does nature encourage and increase the frequency of exercise, improving physical health, but it also improves psychological and social health. Numerous studies have shown how exposure to nature in parks, gardens, and outdoors can improve individual and social health. One study specifically, conducted in 2001 by Frances E. Kuo, investigated how exposure to nature affected individuals and their ability to address major life challenges. During this pandemic, everyone has their own struggles and stressors which can lead to chronic mental fatigue and can become overwhelming. In the study, Kuo found that residents with even limited views of nature from their windows reported less mental fatigue, less procrastination in dealing with life issues, and feeling that their problems were less severe and more solvable than residents with no views of nature (Kuo, 2001). With a drastic difference in the residents’ mental health, the power of nature was shown through such a small difference in their apartment views.
Based on personal experience and scientific evidence, it is evident that parks improve the overall health of the community and are more important than ever due to the pandemic.
Frumkin, H. (2003). Healthy Places: Exploring the Evidence. American Journal of Public Health, 93(9), 1451
Khan et al. (2002) The Effectiveness of Interventions to Increase Physical Activity. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 22(4), 87–88.
Kuo, F. (2001). Coping with Poverty: Impacts of Environment and Attention in the Inner City. Environment and Behaviour, 33(1), 5–34