Exercise and Access to Outdoor Spaces During Lockdown

The COVID-19 pandemic and its many lockdowns is a topic I’ve been actively trying to avoid over the last year. However, I think it’s safe to say we’re in it for the long haul. I’m slowly coming to terms with the disruption of the pandemic and its drastically varying restrictions, particularly surrounding exercise. I’ve also been researching a lot about how socio-economic and political factors can impact an individual’s access to the outdoors. It’s a topic I continue to research through lockdown and I’m interested to see how our perception of the outdoors may be affected once the COVID-19 pandemic is over. I decided to ask a series of questions on my Instagram Stories to gauge how people interpreted the exercise guidelines. I was particularly interested in hearing about respondents’ access to outdoor spaces during lockdown, as well as their perceived ‘safety’ using said spaces.

DOGSCLOSURE: I’m not a psychology/scientific professional. The data discussed in this blogpost are the results from a short Instagram Stories survey I created just for fun. The questions I chose to ask were ones I’d been struggling with myself during lockdown. It’s been a while since I last created a data analysis report like this. There are definitely ways I could have improved the reliability of the results!

I felt myself starting to struggle mentally with the new lockdown restrictions in England at the start of 2021. The Government Guidelines were vague in places, specifically around exercise and their classification of ‘local.’ There was also a lot of discussion locally in Plymouth, where I live, about whether Dartmoor National Park is classed as local to Plymouth. The National Park is only 5-10 miles away from Plymouth, depending where you’re driving from. It also provides miles of high quality outdoor space that’s far easier to socially distance in, compared to the handful of comparatively smaller parks and stretches of coastline in the city itself. I decided to channel my frustration and difficult feelings into a short survey on Instagram. I wanted to see how others were interpreting the exercise guidelines and laws.

The Demographic

I started off asking a couple of location based questions, to gather information about the demographics responding to my survey. It’s important to note that overall around 1-5% of my Instagram following (total 4,252 at the time of writing) engaged with the survey, whether answering full or partially. The majority (81.7%) of my overall Instagram audience identify as female. 47.7% of my followers fall into the 25-34 age bracket. 35-44 year olds are the next popular age range, at 19.8%, followed by 45-54 year olds (13.6%) and 18-24 year olds (11.6%.) The majority of my followers live in the UK (75.5%.) A large proportion live in towns and cities across the south west of England, including Plymouth, Truro, Falmouth and Newquay. 7.3% of followers live in London. However I have also received responses from individuals living in other areas including Glasgow, Liverpool and County Durham.

I was interested to find out what sort of location my followers lived in and how that affected their access to outdoor space. The majority lived in either a Small Village/Rurally (33%) or a Small Town/Large Village (32%.) The remaining 35% identified with living in more urban areas including large towns, suburbs and inner cities. I also asked my audience if they currently have access to their own private outdoor area, such as an enclosed dog friendly garden. I asked this question, as during the first lockdown there was a lot of discussion in the media surrounding inequality of access to private outdoor spaces, particularly when living in apartments and high rise flats. As someone who owns two dogs myself and currently lives in a flat, not having access to private dog friendly outdoor space was one of my biggest concerns before the initial COVID-19 lockdown in 2020. In contrast, the overwhelming majority (84%) did have access to their own private outdoor space during the current lockdown. I think this is an important factor to consider when analysing the rest of the survey responses.

An Analysis of Exercise and Access to Outdoor Spaces During Lockdown

Perceived Access and Safety of Local Outdoor Spaces

The next questions I asked were around access to local outdoor spaces during lockdown and individuals’ perceived safety when using said spaces. For the latter I wanted to include an option that didn’t encompass COVID-19 related safety, as other factors such as a rise in local crime may acutely impact how safe somebody feels in their local area. To my delight, the majority (71%) of participants reported feeling safe accessing their local outdoor spaces. Furthermore the vast majority (89%) felt they had a fair amount of choice when it came to accessing outdoor spaces local to them.

I regret not asking the type of outdoor space respondents currently had access to in my survey. I think this would be an insightful piece of data. If I were to conduct this survey again I would also include questions asking what type activities participants were doing as part of their daily exercise in lockdown. I personally believe the type of outdoor location has a huge impact on our overall satisfaction of the space. It’s important to remember the vast majority of my audience are based in the south west and live rurally/semi rurally. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were engaging with ‘higher quality’ outdoor spaces more regularly. Locations such as beaches, woodlands and coast paths. If so, I predict this demographic is more likely to feel spoilt for choice and safe accessing their local outdoor spaces. Especially as the population density accessing said spaces is likely lower to those living in more urbanised areas. As someone who used to live semi rurally, I’ve noticed that it has definitely been harder to find quieter spots now we live in a much larger city.

Perceived Access to and Safety in Outdoor Spaces During Lockdown

Driving ‘Local’ Distances for Exercise During Lockdown

86% of participants agreed it was acceptable to drive in order to access local outdoor areas during lockdown. However, the question ‘How Far is Considered ‘Local’ to Drive?’ garnered the greatest variance in the entire survey. I purposefully left out a unit for the answer, as I was intrigued what measurements participants would choose by default. The two main units of measurement were miles (72%) and minutes (28%) however the specific numbers varied dramatically. It’s interesting that time was a significant unit of measurement.

In my opinion there’s a huge variance between the distance you cover in a 10 minute drive in an urban or rural area. Not only due to higher average speed limits but also the density of traffic you’d encounter on your journey. Unsurprisingly the rural/urban debate was mentioned throughout my survey. This was usually in the context of it being ‘okay’ to drive further if you live in a rural area. However not for those travelling from an urban to a rural location. This concept interests me, particularly due to the geography of the south west of England. I also received a small but significant number of messages from reactive dog owners. Some felt pressured to drive further than they would like in order to access outdoor spaces that best suited their dogs. These included isolation from other dogs and peace and quiet on their walk.

Opinions on Driving to Access Outdoor Spaces During Lockdown

Types of Activity as Exercise and Reactions to Social Media Posts

I asked participants whether whether they thought it was acceptable to engage in any form of exercise activity during lockdown, so long as you had sufficient experience and followed safety measures throughout. Just under two thirds of participants (61%) thought you should be allowed. Whereas 29% didn’t think it was appropriate and 10% were unsure. Reasons for not engaging in certain activities included the increased potential strain on the NHS, Coast Guard, Mountain Rescue and RNLI if things went wrong (10%.) A further 10% of participants remarked that ‘experience’ in an activity itself is subjective. 5% noted that it could encourage other, less experienced people to try out a more dangerous activity, which could be problematic. I also received messages from qualified outdoor professionals, as well as NHS and healthcare professionals. They all advised sticking to lower risk activities for the duration of England’s lockdown.

I was also interested to hear people’s reactions to social media posts. Specifically posts showing ‘better’ exercise and/or access to outdoor spaces during lockdown. 43% of participants responded with negative emotions. A significant proportion (29%) noted being grateful for higher quality access to outdoor spaces, or identified this question as not applying to them at all due to where they lived. 14% found watching other people’s access to the outdoors inspiring. They said it provides a moment of escapism and enables them to plan for future adventures. 11% of participants noted they either experience mixed emotions or that their emotional reaction changes frequently on any given day.


Reactions to Social Media and Types of Activity During Lockdown


I was pleasantly surprised by the number of responses my survey received. I thoroughly enjoyed discussing the issues and opinions raised in more depth in my DMs. My main conclusion is that there’s a lot of ambiguity in the Government Guidelines. The survey results definitely reflect this. However, this is arguably to be expected, as individual human lifestyles are never always going to be completely logical. I definitely feel reassured that the majority of people are following the rules as best they can. However I also acknowledge there are numerous factors that contribute to an individual’s ability to do so.

There are definitely a number of sub factors that I’d like to continue exploring, including the rural/urban driving bias. I feel like there is a lot of prejudice and stereotyping locally around who ‘should’ be driving for essential purposes, including accessing outdoor space for exercise. It’s alarming at times how possessive some communities have been, however I’m reassured that these sorts of media reports often involve the minority of a population. It’s important to remember that ultimately our rural and urban communities are equally as reliant on one another for both infrastructural and recreational purposes.

How do you feel personally about access to outdoor spaces during lockdown? What sort of exercise activities are you choosing to partake in at the moment? I’d love to continue this discussion in the comments!

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