biking webTo reduce your risk of exposure to COVID-19, it’s important to heed the recommendations of public health officials regarding social distancing but that doesn’t mean you have to stay cooped up indoors, says geriatric specialist Roopa Anmolsingh, MD of St. Luke’s Senior Care Associates.

“It’s true that older adults are more susceptible to both getting COVID-19 and having serious complications from it,” she says. She explains that as we age, our immune system also changes in its ability to fight disease and our cells become less adept at identifying pathogens, which are organisms that cause disease. To make matters worse, many older adults have other conditions, such as malnutrition, diabetes, COPD and cardiovascular disease, which lower their ability to fight an infection.

“While it’s best for older adults to stay away from others who might have the disease and not even know it – even your friends and loved ones – you don’t need to stay indoors,” she says. “In fact, fresh air and sunshine can do wonders for your physical, mental and emotional health.”

Your body makes vitamin D when your skin is exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. Vitamin D has many health benefits such as boosting the immune and nervous systems, supporting healthy bones, increasing mood lifting chemicals and cardiovascular health. The National Institutes of Health estimate that 40% of American adults have vitamin D deficiency.

“You don’t have to spend a long time in the sun to get the health benefits of UV rays. We recommend 15-20 minutes a day,” Dr. Anmolsingh says. “Vitamin D has been shown to reduce hip fractures, high blood pressure, stroke and myocardial infarction (heart attack). Also, when you’re outside you’re more likely to be mobile and physically active. But even sitting outside, reading a book and having a cup of water can be helpful.

Sunlight has also been shown to increase happiness.

“Just being outside and communing with nature has shown to increase vitality, making you more resilient against physical illness,” she says. “When we’re in a park, or even our backyard, we tend to feel more alive, more at one with nature. Our energy levels increase.”
Dr. Anmolsingh reminds you to wear sunscreen before going out in the sun for protection.

If you are prone to spring allergies, she suggests that you wait until 10 am on warm or windy days as pollen levels are highest in the early morning. Also wash your hands and face and change your clothes when you come back indoors.
One of the best and safest activities is walking but she discourages older adults from visiting popular parks where it might be difficult to keep a six-foot distance from others.

“Instead, walk in your yard or neighborhood, if you can safely,” she says. “Seek out less popular parks or paths that are less traveled but secure and greet others from a safe distance.”

Also, bike riding is good low impact, calorie-burning activity for many older adults, Dr. Anmolsingh advises. If this is a new activity, however, she suggests that you check with your doctor to ensure you have adequate muscle strength, balance, vision and cognitive awareness to prevent falls or getting lost. For safety reasons, avoid riding when it’s raining or windy and always wear a helmet, knee and elbow pads, and proper footwear. Also, keep your bike well maintained and be sure that the tires are properly inflated.

“Fishing is another excellent activity to soak in the benefits of the outdoors,” she says. “It is cognitively stimulating and can provide socialization as long as you stay at least six feet away.” Using a rowboat or kayak to fish, or just as a way to enjoy the water, are other acceptable activities. But again, be sure you have good muscular and cardiovascular health, wear a life vest and equip your boat with other safety equipment. Also, make sure that the lake, stream or river is safe and avoid bodies of water with a fast current or rapids.

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