Covid-19. Stay Home. & Exercise.

National Trail walking paused. And for once it is not my sore feet which are to blame.

I’m following what I see as the letter and the spirit of the lockdown. The more of us who do it – sooner rather than later, the less time we will all have to do it for. And the best chance we will give to those patients who need the NHS to survive.

I stuck to the previous guidance regarding essential travel pre lockdown announcement, postponing my distance walking plans for the South West Coast Path from April / May to September (as I would have had to used Public Transport unnecessarily). I hope this situation is improving by then. There will be far bigger problems than my step count if it isn’t.

I even turned down pie and a pint (never, ever has that been known!) last week (pre pub closure) because, whilst asymptomatic and not in self-isolation I had used the Tube in London a week earlier and didn’t want to risk impacting my mates.

So with my trail walking plans paused I obviously want to keep moving to maintain my improving fitness, and shift some more bulk. I am supposed to be doing at least 100km a week according to my spreadsheet. But – even in that context, during the lockdown I won’t be interpreting my once a day, outdoor exercise allowance as “a 6 hour walk, following a drive to a beauty spot” or “a quick marathon”.

I’ll be doing an hour max on the bridleways and footpaths I know well, and which are accessible from my door step. That is my interpretation of the official guide which says “when doing these activities, you should be minimising time spent outside of the home”. I hope it doesn’t need to get stricter than this, but I suspect it will and more on that later.

The British Mountaineering Council – (I read their site for interest only as I am by no means a rugged ‘Mountain-Man’ (despite mates calling me a $hit Ray Mears…) as they also talk about hill walking, which has some relevance to a lad trying to walk our National Trails) – get it right in their article here

Summarised as:

• Don’t travel unless it’s essential.

• Don’t go climbing or hill walking.

• Stay local.

And I’ll be following that advice in the lockdown, despite the miles and miles of gentle, roamable, humanity-free Access Land within a 15 min walk of my house. I think right now Footpaths, and Bridleways are a better option. Sure, I could turn my ankle on tarmac or a well trodden track, but on the balance of risk it is far less likely than on the uneven, uncertain terrain away from those routes. And there are more than enough footpaths to go around to maintain social / physical distancing protocols.

I reckon – if you are the bloke who needs an emergency services call out, and then sits in A&E in your sweaty or bloody running/walking gear when the staff are maxed with virus issues you’re going to feel guilty enough. And if you wouldn’t feel bad in that situation, given everything else they are coping with right now – you definitely should have a word with yourself.

That said, I think they’ll understand the odd twisted knee or broken wrist from people exercising sensibly, in suitable places, in line with guidance. After all – stuff happens, and it’s not like we can stop all exercise, DIY or in home related accidents during a pandemic. People are not going to eat potatoes like apples in order to avoid using a potentially dangerous knife, and thereby protect limited ambulance resources. I may however, avoid hoovering chores for fear of putting my back out in a way that I am telling myself would require at least a couple of consultants and a whole bucket of painkillers, but inside I’ll know its just cos’ I hate hoovering.

The NHS will still need to serve patients with routine, unfortunate non Coronavirus related breaks, strains, and cuts, and it will do it brilliantly whilst this crisis continues. But how much less sympathetic should hard pressed Nurses and Doctors rightly be if you hurt yourself needlessly, half way up a craggy mountain you could have avoided, in the middle of nowhere, trying to bag a tricky trig point? No – “now this is what I call self isolating lolz” – selfie is worth it.

Walking / Cycling / Exercising well within your capability, local to home, minimising time spent outside, and reducing risk is a very small price to pay. It’s not like you are being conscripted to fight an overseas war, at risk of never seeing home again. Peter Jackson is not going to be pasting footage of your lockdown experiences into a moving tribute to your sacrifice. Less ‘They Shall Not Grow Old’ more ‘They Shall Not Go Out’.

That said – looking online this morning, there is a lot of discussion about what the guidance is, and how loosely the “once a day” UK lockdown exercise rules can be interpreted. Many people are fit enough to do a 3 hour run, or say a 4 hour ride, or perhaps a 7 hour walk all in one go. And a few of those I’d guess will intend to maintain or even increase their regimes during the lockdown. Why shouldn’t they – they’d argue? They would promise to social distance (easy until it isn’t because it is busier than you realised…), and it would only be one session (albeit a triple Ironman!) per day.

But that wouldn’t be in the spirit of the current guidance and deep down those people know it. Most will see sense I am sure, as we all adjust to this changed way of living over the next 3 weeks – but I understand their hesitance. It is a wrench to give up your regime when there are so many mental health benefits associated with being outside and getting active, but it is worth it overall. Those who try and wriggle around the spirit of what is being asked – probably because they really (really) want to head out there for a mammoth session when the weather is good, and they feel healthy, but they know they don’t really need to get outside for excessive periods, need to stop trying to rationalise it!

It is simple : #StayHomeSaveLives

In France I understand the once a day outdoor exercise limit is 1 hour max, up to 1 km from your home, and I am sure that will come to the UK if people don’t self-police this enough. I have not taken the time to 3 source fact check this, but a quick read of online (reputable) new sources about the French lockdown tells me, that cycles (for the purposes of the exercise allowance) have been banned at this time – who needs to cycle just 1km given the other rules?. And that you need to fill in a form to show Police if you are stopped. French rules for breaking the guidance are c£125 first offence. A second offence within 15 days and expect to pay c£1400. Break the rules 4 times in 30 days and you’ll fork out c£3500 and spend up to 6 months in jail – where your daily strolls will be much more tightly controlled!

Apparently they have issued more than 90,000 fines already. Sounds like a big number, but a fairly low % of the population. Obviously they are not catching everyone who truants from home, how could they, so there will be many more. I’d guess the issue is that people think like individuals and can always rationalise their own movement plans, whereas fighting a pandemic deals in the total population. In that context, 90,000+ ‘unnecessary’ people movements, even in the context of a population of millions, when you are trying to control a virus is surely quite a lot? It is not surprising they increased the fine for a first offence from c£35 originally, and may even raise it again. I’d guess that included in that 90,000+ will be fines for those who forgot the paperwork, or whose “essential travel” reason didn’t stack up. There were, for example probably those on a 2nd daily dog walk, with limited space for doggy leg stretches / bowel movements at home. Important to the individual for sure, and the dog certainly, but not a good enough reason to move about in a lockdown if we don’t treat ourselves as the exception to the rule.

Away from exercise, the list of businesses in the UK deciding between profit (wanting to open) and public opinion (being criticised heavily on social platforms if they do) having not understood, or having inflated whether they are indeed essential is fascinating. Most are now getting the message it seems, and shutting up.

My personal aim for the next 3 weeks is to be 1000Kcal a day in the green via diet, and exercise and will use my generously / grandly titled “home gym” for this. My home gym is a rarely used, fat lad specification exercise bike I have dusted off, and placed a retro Nintendo console in front of. Let me just say – I *hate* indoor cycling – it’s more boring that anything I can think of – which makes me wonder why I bought the damn thing in the first place. But at last it gets a chance to shine. Hate it as I do, it is surprisingly effective. Yesterday (pre lockdown) I did a socially distant fast walk, on fairly hilly quiet country roads: 100 minutes for 850 calories, and then in the evening 20 mins on this bike, for 250 more. If I’d spent all the time on the bike I would have burned more energy. But I wouldn’t have seen any nature, which is critical to me, and helps explains the difficulty people have in giving up their outdoor fitness regimes! If the bike gets too boring I can set up my step ladder to simulate Snowdon. Not a bad idea, and some people are doing that already that as a reaction to the crowds last weekend. Good on them.

Here is hoping that these measures are not needed for long, and that the NHS workers, and patients suffering with the virus, get the help, support and crucially time needed to allow the restrictions to loosen again. But until then my thoughts are with those suffering with, caring for, or working through the virus, rather than those who can’t exercise as normal.

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