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Exercise, nutrition are also keys to maintaining strong immune system and fighting off the coronavirus

by BILL BULEY
Staff Writer | August 23, 2020 1:30 AM

COEUR d’ALENE — Wear masks. Wash hands. Maintain distance.

Those are some of the mantras preached by health officials to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

But there are other ways to protect yourself that aren’t mandated but are considered equally important by many in the health care field: Exercise and nutrition.

“Exercise and proper nutrition can definitely help a person’s immune system stay healthy,” said Kim Young, program manager of nutrition services/health promotion with the Panhandle Health District. “Getting a variety of different exercises that appeal to the person and engaging a well-rounded healthy diet are key.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has this to say: “Remember the importance of staying physically active and practicing healthy habits to cope with stress.”

Many were doing just that Saturday morning in Coeur d’Alene.

At Independence Point, Peak Health and Wellness training director Bryan Janzen was leading a small group in a mini-triathlon — swim, bike and run.

And over at McEuen Park, hundreds were participating in the Coeur d’Alene Marathon, with runners heading out at timed intervals in either the full marathon, a half, a 10K or a 5K.

And many more were hiking Tubbs Hill, cycling on Coeur d’Alene Lake Drive and practicing yoga at City Park.

“The most important thing is keeping your immune system strong,” Janzen said. “I think exercise is absolutely critical for your immune system, attitude, eating habits and just feeling great.”

In a time of stay-home orders, social restrictions and closed gyms, many fell into unhealthy habits of too much TV, too much junk food, and not enough getting outside and breathing fresh air.

“Good eating habits became bad eating habits,” Janzen said.

When Peak and other gyms reopened, many clients returned out of shape, overweight and battling depression.

“It was a ripple effect into all these other areas of your life in a major way,” Janzen said.

He spoke of the legendary endorphins — chemicals produced by the body during exercise and other demanding activities that are said to relieve pain and boost spirits.

“It’s a good counter-attack mentally, psychology, emotionally,” he said.

Despite all that was happening on a sunny weekend morning, one recent survey found the average Idahoans are becoming couch potatoes.

Ezvid Wiki, a video wiki, software and media company, polled nearly 4,000 Americans to find out how their exercise habits had changed during the pandemic. It found that Idahoans have been doing 42% less exercise than before the pandemic began.

The survey found the USA’s laziest state is Vermont; they are doing 67% less exercise compared to Minnesotans, who are only doing 16% less than before the start of the pandemic.

“Despite having the option of home workouts, it appears many people used lockdown to let their fitness slide,” the survey said.

It also found that Idahoans have watched, on average, 356 hours of TV during lockdown (roughly 32 hours per week). This compares to 262 hours over a comparable pre-lockdown period.

TV watching, inactivity and overeating are contributors to the nation’s obesity rate of about 40 percent. The coronavirus hits those with conditions like obesity harder than those who are in shape, says the CDC.

The survey found that one in three left unemployed spent their time binge-watching TV, and 57% said they have enjoyed being lazy during lockdown.

“Americans were forced to remain at home and many took this as an opportunity to kick back and relieve the boredom by resorting to good old television,” the survey said.

Perhaps not in North Idaho, though.

Dawn Hawkes, who completed the triathlon Saturday, said exercise was key during the stay-home order and shutdown of businesses deemed nonessential.

“It makes everything tolerable,” she said.

Triathlete Nancy Haler said working out helps her stay positive.

“I want to live a long life and be strong,” she said.

Hal Perier of Spokane was wearing his wetsuit at City Beach on Saturday preparing for a swim. He planned to do the half-Ironman before it was canceled, so he’s already looking ahead to next year’s full Ironman CDA.

Training, he said, helps physically and mentally and gives him focus.

“It’s everything for me,” he said.

Of course, you’ve got to fuel your body and Young said eating lots of fruit and vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins is helpful.

“Foods work together to create a synergistic effect in the body,” she said.

Young said not one food can prevent illness, but having a well-balanced diet rich in these vitamins and minerals may help boost your immune system:

• Vitamin C, found in citrus fruits, strawberries and bell peppers may help boost antibodies.

• Vitamin A keeps tissues and skin healthy and may protect against infections. You can find Vitamin A in carrots, sweet potatoes, broccoli and spinach.

• Zinc and Protein aid in the healing and recovery process. Both zinc and protein can be found in lean meats, poultry, seafood, beans, nuts and seeds.

“Many other vitamins and minerals act as antioxidants and can have a positive impact on the immune system,” Young said. It is preferred to consume whole foods containing these nutrients for better absorption rather than supplements.”

Katherine Hoyer, PHD spokeswoman, said spending time outdoors whether exercising or just taking a leisurely stroll, can be a great mood booster.

“Just remember to enjoy the sunshine safely,” she said.

While many people were wearing masks at the marathon, it’s not necessary when they are outside, more than 6 feet from others and can remain so, Hoyer wrote in an email to The Press in response to a question.

She said if you are outdoors, exercising, or just enjoying the outdoors, and see that you are going to come within 6 feet of someone else, put your mask on.

Hoyer said people who are engaged in high-intensity activities, like running, may not be able to wear a cloth face covering if it causes difficulty breathing.

“If unable to wear a cloth face covering, consider conducting the activity in a location with greater ventilation and air exchange (for instance, outdoors versus indoors) and where it is possible to maintain physical distance from others,” she wrote.

Trevor Sanders of Granite Bay, Calif., just before participating in the Coeur d’Alene Marathon on Saturday, said he was glad the race wasn’t canceled, and if it had been, he still would have come here to run.

With the coronavirus still on everyone’s minds, exercise gives him hope of better days ahead.

“It’s a great way to get back to normal,” he said. “Just being outside gets your mind off everything. It’s super important.”

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BILL BULEY/Press

Dawn Hawkes runs to City Beach after finishing the swim leg of Saturday’s triathlon for a Peak Health and Wellness Center group led by trainer Bryan Janzen.

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BILL BULEY/Press

Jen Hays completes the final stretch of the swim in Lake Coeur d’Alene on Saturday as part of a triathlon with her training group from Peak Health and Wellness.