Health Matters: How to Have a Safe and Fun Summer
The past few months have been challenging, to say the least. Finally, summer is here! Now that the long, warm days have arrived, many of us want to get out and enjoy camps, music festivals, Fourth of July parades, family reunions, weddings, and long-distance travel, but because of COVID-19, events continue to be altered or canceled.
The resulting feelings of disappointment and uncertainty can compound our stress from the isolation of social distancing and the financial struggles caused by the pandemic. As effects from COVID-19 linger, many of us are at greater risk from anxiety, depression and physical wear.
Prioritizing our mental, physical, and social well-being not only improves our quality of life but optimizes our immune system to fight infection. Other than socially distancing and wearing masks, the most important ways to protect ourselves are by exercising regularly, eating nutritiously, and staying connected with people we care about.
GET OUTSIDE AND EXERCISE
It is more important than ever to take care of your physical health. Regular exercise often reduces the risk of getting sick, and when it comes to COVID-19, multiple studies have shown that regular exercise decreases chance of severe respiratory complications. In fact, exercise helps us produce an antioxidant enzyme that reduces harmful free radicals and protects our tissues from disease.
If you can, get outside! Being in the sun and fresh air is good for our bodies and minds and is associated with reduced transmission of respiratory infections. We are incredibly fortunate to live in an area that offers beautiful state parks, beaches, and hiking trails. Taking a walk, jog, or a bike ride (wear a helmet!) are all great ways to get outdoor exercise. In addition to the physical and mental benefits of outdoor exercise, sunlight helps the body make vitamin D which boosts immune function against viral diseases. Just remember to wear sunscreen.
Exercise is only one of many forms of self-care. Others include eating well, getting plenty of sleep, and focusing on resiliency. Healthy, well-balanced meals incorporate plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, iron, and calcium-rich foods. Foods such as fish, eggs, and fortified dairy and cereals also help boost your vitamin D levels. Getting 8-10 hours of quality sleep helps fight infections and improves mood and stress levels. And as always, smoking cessation and avoiding excessive alcohol use is important for cardiovascular health.
This is also a great opportunity to work with children on developing resiliency, which can be promoted through the "3 Rs." REASSURE children that they are safe and loved. Practice predictable ROUTINES, especially around sleep and meals, and support children's REGULATION skills such as using deep breathing, exercise, and quiet times. Giving children some chores and subsequently reinforcing their good behavior with lots of positive praise can promote self-worth and a sense of purpose, and making time for emotional check-ins allows children to express any worries they might have.
When stress spikes, practicing deep breathing and meditation can bring a much-needed rest and actually reduce levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. Ideally, meditating regularly can help you reduce spikes in stress. Meditation practices can include peaceful walks, prayer, gentle stretching, working on a puzzle, writing, drawing, and similar activities.
In addition to taking time to reset through meditation, consider fun ways to spend time by brainstorming with your household on activities, art projects, or new skills, and post the list in a central place where you can look when you need something to do.
SAFELY MAINTAIN SOCIAL CONNECTIONS
Finally, we are social beings. Staying connected with family, friends and community brings a sense of belonging and purpose. Calls, video chats, and written communication are safe but not a fun as in-person visits. As shelter-in-place restrictions are lifted, be aware that COVID-19 and other droplet-infectious diseases spread through close proximity. The safest strategy is to stick with your family or close social circle unit. Stay at least six feet (two arms' lengths) away from people who don't live in your household. When meeting with others, stay outside as much as possible and keep social gatherings small.
Remember, local medical providers are here to help, either via telehealth services or in person. If you would like to discuss ways to improve your health, please give us a call.
Dr. Casey Johnston is a pediatrician at MCHC Health Centers—a local, non-profit, federally qualified health center offering medical, dental and behavioral health care to people in Lake and Mendocino Counties.