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As people are getting vaccinated and pandemic restrictions start to lift, now is the perfect time to get out of your apartment and explore the city. Credit: Sukhmani Kaur

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on life at Penn. As classes turned online and students were stuck in their rooms on Zoom all day, isolation and loneliness spread across the student body. As a first year who moved to campus for the first time last semester, I felt it deeply, and with New Student Orientation and social events shifted completely online, it was difficult to make new friends. I felt myself stuck going through the motions: doing homework, getting dining hall food, going to class, going to bed, and waking up the next day — only to do it all again. 

A few weeks into the semester, on a whim, I decided to get out of my room and go on a walk. Almost immediately, I felt refreshed, and eventually, walks became a regular part of my routine. After spending weeks inside, I began to walk everywhere, from the dining hall to Old City, and I would take public transit to places I couldn’t reach on foot. In the process, I learned about Philadelphia, made new friends, and had memorable experiences. If you’re staying near campus this summer, don’t languish indoors: Use the time to go outside and explore.

Spending time outdoors can be a powerful tool in improving your mental health. According to a study in Frontiers in Psychology, spending even just 20 minutes outside daily can contribute to a nearly 19% reduction in stress-causing hormones per hour (beyond normal daily fluctuations). The act of walking itself also releases endorphins, natural opioids that can help boost your mood. And, of course, walking is good exercise. It requires no equipment, no training, and no reservations at Pottruck Health and Fitness Center. Unlike other exercises, walking doesn’t leave you drained: When I get back from a walk, I am often energized and even more productive.

I’ve invited friends to walk to Center City and buy groceries, to Fairmount Park, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and other places on small “adventures.” As the weather warms, I’ve started picnicking with friends or setting up hammocks and doing work outside. Sure, your work is remote, but that doesn’t mean you have to be inside all day. 

If you’re on campus this summer for research, summer classes, internships, or career opportunities, then this might be the first time you have serious chores, like buying groceries, paying rent, and cooking meals. Having adult responsibilities may seem daunting, and you might notice yourself getting stuck in the motions and staying in your comfort zone. Reaching out to a friend and planning an outdoor get-together may seem daunting and lower on your list of priorities, but adventure and exploration is a great way to mix things up and make the most of this summer.

If you’re looking for your next outdoor adventure and want to explore beyond University City, there are many places in Philadelphia to explore. Rittenhouse Square is a cozy park nestled in a busy intersection in Center City. In West Philadelphia, Clark Park has a dog park and a Saturday farmers' market. The Schuylkill River Trail is right next to campus, perfect for an afternoon of cycling. Fairmount Park, only two miles from campus, has a traditional Japanese garden and for some more intense hiking, Wissahickon Valley Park provides the perfect opportunity to escape the city on sweltering summer days. Granted, some of these places are too far from campus to easily walk to, but Philadelphia has a public transportation system called SEPTA that makes the city accessible through trains and buses, and the suburbs accessible through the Regional Rail. Planning trips is simple through Google Maps, and they’re often inexpensive: a round-trip through the city typically costs less than $10. No matter what it is that you're interested in — a day of strenuous exercise or just a place to sit and have a cup of coffee — there are places around campus where you can do it outside.

As people are getting vaccinated and pandemic restrictions start to lift, now is the perfect time to get out of your apartment and explore the city. Reach out to a roommate or friend and plan a trip for this weekend, throw your computer into a backpack and do some work in a park, or get some take-out and eat outside. Whatever it is that you want to do, you don’t have to be indoors. Get out, explore, and make the most of the city we live in.

DECLAN CAMBEY is a sophomore in the School of Engineering and Applied Science studying mechanical engineering from Hillsborough, N.C. His email is dcambey@seas.upenn.edu.

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