Parking is tight at Mount Douglas Park, as hikers and bikers fill the trails and roadway on a mild Saturday.
“Just get exercise and unplug for a bit, it’s beautiful out here and quite often we’re sitting at home watching TV, especially in the pandemic,” Curtis McCormac, a local who often hikes the Saanich mountain.
Since the start of the pandemic, parks in the Capital Regional District have been packed with people.
According to the CRD, there has been a steep increase of more than a million more visitors, going from 7.5 million to 8.5 since the beginning of last year.
“We’ve been coming out more often, we come out here quite a bit,” said McCormac. “A bunch of us are probably working from home in front of computer screens, and it’s a great time to unplug and do something different that we normally wouldn’t do as much when we’re in the big, busy, non-COVID land.”
It’s not just here in British Columbia, people have been filling parks all over Canada since the pandemic started.
A new survey from the Nature Conservancy of Canada shows being outside is more important than ever for Canadians.
“We’re slowing down our lives during the pandemic, so it’s allowed us to get out and enjoy these areas that we maybe overlook or take for granted, the natural beauty in our communities,” said Andrew Holland, spokesperson for the Nature Conservancy of Canada.
According to the survey, 94 per cent of people surveyed said being outdoors helps relieve stress or anxiety and 86 per cent of people say it’s imperative for their mental health during the pandemic.
“Plain and simple, the poll reinforced the idea that nature is an important part of our lives and we should take the time to be out in it,” said Holland.
And it’s only about getting exercise.
“It’s the sights and the feel and the smell about being in nature, there’s something peaceful about it,” said Cathy Costigan, a University of Victoria psychology professor. “For some, there’s something spiritual about being in nature, the extra benefit that the treadmill can’t quite give you.”
Experts say it’s also about being social — a physically distanced walk or bike ride is also one of the only ways Dr. Bonnie Henry, the province’s top doctor, recommends visiting those outside our household.
“For most people, both that combination of being in nature and connection in person in real-time with another person is extremely valuable,” said Costigan.
Costigan says it’s important for everyone to get outside and get active, in order to protect our mental health as we try to get through this pandemic.