The World Outside:

Activities on the Rise in the Face of the Pandemic

As people find ways to get the physical exercise they need, new demands for design and outdoor activity are finding their way to the forefront.  A recent study showed that people who normally exercise up to 1-2 times/week have increased exercising during the pandemic by 88% on average, recognizing that exercise is especially important as it can reduce stress, prevent weight gain, boost immune systems, and improve sleep. Obviously, choosing activities where one can safely maintain distance for themselves and their immediate family are of top interest, and here are a few of the top trends in activities design and infrastructure that have seen explosive growth in 2020. 


Cycling, which is a great way to enjoy the outside while physically distanced, is not only growing as a recreational activity, but also as an alternative to public transportation for essential workers. For both mental and physical release, biking is a symbol of freedom within the confines of a lockdown life. According to Bicycle Retailer, U.S. cycling sales alone through all retail channels grew 75% in April to a total of about $1 billion in retail sales for the month, with people embracing cycling as the pandemic grew. (Typically, April sales fall between $550 and $575 million.) Communities should recognize that making sure riders have appropriate supporting infrastructure is more important than ever, including bike lanes, parking, shelters, and end of trip facilities, and should prioritize these items to help cyclists feel welcomed and supported. 

Outdoor Fitness 

Outdoor fitness (and home gyms, too) have grown in popularity as public gyms closed, or people simply weren’t comfortable using them. Even with gyms beginning to reopen, some users are uncomfortable wearing a mask in combination with the heavy breathing that a tough workout inspires, and continue to use home or outdoor spaces to augment their fitness. Providing spaces for outdoor fitness, plus safety protocol like hand sanitizer stations are an important way to encourage healthy fitness habits.

Trails and pathways

Trail use is surging. This unprecedented demand for places to walk and hike underscores the value that trails have always delivered to communities—in the form of health and wellness, economic opportunity and resilience. At the same time, many are not wide enough to allow for 6 feet of distance between people, so practicing safety, posting rules, offering hand sanitizer stations and other safety guidelines are important tools for trail usage.


The National Golf Foundation has done an amazing job tracking the effects of COVID 19 on the industry. Their latest figures show a continued growth in rounds played; U.S. golfers logged 20% more rounds in August 2020 than August 2019, marking the fourth consecutive month with a year-over-year increase. The sport can be played alone, its entirely outdoors, being respectfully distanced is part of the game, and golf courses are everywhere. 

For designers and manufacturers, as we emerge from the pandemic, continuing this growth pattern will require thoughtful execution that strikes a balance between meeting the needs of new entrants to sports, and the enthusiast who has driven marketing and product choices for many years. In both cases, it’s reasonable to expect that the incentive for exercise in open air will continue as people have embraced the motivation to establish healthier habits.

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