This morning, a highly sensational and scaremongering headline appeared online. ‘How much TOUGHER could lockdown get?’ the MailOnline headline read followed by a string of suggestions – some valid questions others eyebrow-raising. ‘Leave the house once a week?’ one of the subheadings read, suggesting that the government might ban people from regular outdoor exercise in particular.
Using an unnamed source, the MailOnline said ‘outdoor exercise could be limited to only once a week, although this would be difficult to enforce if people could say they were going out for essential shopping.’ Cue absolute chaos on social media.
‘Please help me.. I have been reading this morning we are only be able to leave home once a week! We will be in prison,’ oner person tweeted. ‘I am not coping now.. our dog needs exercise as do all humans I am mask exempt.. I can’t go on.’
‘Really hoping that rumours regarding the removal of support bubbles, and exercise / leaving the home limited to just once a week are untrue,’ another added. ‘Both the physical and mental health implications of that will be unreal for those who live alone.’
Are the government considering limited outdoor exercise to once a week?
While there was some validity to the concerns about removing support bubbles - vaccine minister Nadhim Zawahi was asked about this on Good Morning Britain where he said they wouldn’t be removed but that rules were constantly under review, causing some confusion – that was ruled out by Matt Hancock in a press conference this afternoon.
The suggestion that we won’t be able to leave the house more than once a week seemed more sensational though, and Matt Hancock further clarified that people can still exercise outdoors with one other person from outside their household but they must be exercising (not using it as an excuse to socialise, for example) and stay two meters apart.
Despite that, the headlines mean people are still terrified. Because, even the mere suggestion that it could be somewhere in our future, and the constant reminder that lockdown measure are always under review, causes panic. Why? Because only allowing outdoor exercise once a week would have a huge impact on people’s physical and emotional wellbeing.
‘Not being able to go for a daily walk would be a nightmare for my mental health,’ says Niamh Mercer, 25, who suffers from PTSD and anxiety. ‘Last week I didn't leave the house from Sunday to Thursday because of my work schedule and the bad weather, and when I finally got out I felt like a completely different person after walking just 10 minutes.
‘Fresh air, feeling the sun on my face, and just changing my surroundings brought my stress levels down so much and to only be able to do this once a week for the next month or two would be awful,’ she continues. ‘This could also be the only respite people living in abusive or difficult home environments get each day and could even cost lives.’
Going for a run gives me a sort of consistency I need in my life right now.
For Charley Ross, 28, who deals with panic attacks and low episodes it would increase her stress levels astronomically.
‘There’s no way that exercising outdoors once a week only would be enough to keep my mental health on an even keel,’ she explains. ‘I find outdoor exercise calms me down, whether it’s stress to do with the pandemic, my job, my housemates etc. Without doing it regularly I’d be incredibly stressed, feel very trapped in both my living space and the people I’m living with. I think it would make me feel resentful of them since I can’t escape them.
‘It would make me feel very low and veer towards a much more intense depression because being about to go outside and run or cycle gives me a sort of consistency I don’t have in other areas of my life right now,’ she continues. ‘If I was confided inside and not able to exercise, it would bring home exactly what’s going on right now because at least when you’re able to exercise outside it’s almost like you’re exposed to normality for that short space of time because it’s something you might’ve also done beforehand.’
Mental health issues or not, it’s clear that limiting peoples outdoor exercise to once a week would have huge impacts on peoples physical and emotional health (and their pets too as the Twitter user above pointed out). But it's worth remembering that the government have said nothing of doing this, and have made no suggestion that they will in future.
The headlines are scary, they're causing many of us to panic, but it's worth remembering that no one (including the government) wants to see tougher restrictions imposed. In a document released by the government, good ventilation is still shown to be a key factor in reducing transmission of the new variant – and since you can’t get better ventilation than being outdoors, it seems obscene to stop people doing exactly that when it’s simple enough to put space between you and another person.
So, just remember, if it seems too obscene to be true, it might be just that. We can hope in 2021, right? That's not cancelled just yet...