Picture of two adults sitting at a table talking.

Advance care planning is more important than ever

The COVID-19 pandemic is shedding new light on the often-abstract concept of advance care planning. Advance care planning is where individuals document what matters most to them, and then select the right health care agent to make decisions on their behalf if they are unable to speak for themselves. During this pandemic, many people have had the heartbreaking experience of making medical decisions for loved ones who were unable to communicate.

Advance care planning gives patients peace of mind in knowing that health care decisions will be made on their behalf by a person they trust. For the person selected to be someone’s health care agent, advance care planning gives them the confidence to make decisions based on their loved one’s stated values and beliefs.

ADVANCE cARE pLANNING: fOR All aDULTS aGES 18 AND oLDER

All adults ages 18 and older should start advance care planning conversations with their health care providers, family members and trusted friends. Then, they should complete a health care proxy to formally name a health care agent.

Completing or updating a health care proxy can be done at an office visit to the individual’s physician, nurse practitioner, or physician assistant. The practice of social distancing may require this to be done with a telehealth visit via telephone or by using video conferencing technology such as Skype.

The health care proxy form requires two witnesses to the signature. This can be accomplished in person, or by using video conferencing technology. A photo of the signed health care proxy can be mailed to the health care provider or uploaded to the medical practice’s secure patient portal. Individuals also should email a copy to family members.

If video conferencing is unavailable, speak with your health care provider about the process for verbal consent.

Read special considerations on how to complete a health care proxy during the pandemic by visiting CompassionandSupport.org.

MOLST: For those with an advanced illness

Individuals with an advanced illness or advanced frailty are advised to reach out to their physician or nurse practitioner to discuss the Medical Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (MOLST). MOLST reflects a patient’s preferences for treatment, including resuscitation, respiratory support on a ventilator, and hospitalization. It is based on a thoughtful discussion  about the patient’s current health status, prognosis and goals for care.

MOLST is not an advance directive and is not for healthy people. It is a set of medical orders signed by a physician or nurse practitioner that must be followed.

Learn More and Start The Conversation

Excellus BlueCross BlueShield led the development of a free community website, CompassionAndSupport.org, that includes information on advance care planning, free downloadable forms and instructional videos. MOLST.org has COVID-19 guidance on MOLST, eMOLST, and how to have thoughtful MOLST discussions.

An educational poster “Who Will Speak For You If You Can’t Make Your Own Health Care Decisions?” is available to download at ExcellusBCBS.com.

Sudden signs of stroke

Recognizing Signs of Stroke Can Speed Treatment and Limit Damage

Only one-third of adults in New York state say they can recognize the signs of a stroke, according to a review of self-reported data by Excellus BlueCross BlueShield. And that’s bad news since every 40 seconds someone in the United States has a stroke, according to the American Heart Association. Knowing when someone is exhibiting the symptoms of a stroke can lead to quicker treatment and a lower risk of disability or death.

Acting F.A.S.T. If You Suspect a Stroke

A stroke occurs when a blood vessel supplying oxygen and nutrients to the brain becomes blocked with a blood clot (ischemic stroke) or when a blood vessel bursts, causing bleeding within or around the brain (hemorrhagic stroke). The brain is deprived of oxygen, and brain cells die within minutes. The body cannot replace damaged brain cells, so the effects of a stroke are often permanent.

“A stroke is a brain attack, and damage can increase with every minute that treatment is delayed,” said Nicholas Massa, M.D., C.P.C., Medical Director at Excellus BCBS. “The acronym F-A-S-T is an easy way to remember what to look for and what to do if you suspect someone has had a stroke.”

  • F = Face.  Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
  • A = Arm.  Ask the person to raise both arms. Is one arm drifting down or appearing weak?
  • S = Speech.  Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is speech slurred or confused?
  • T= Time.  Time lost is brain lost, so call 9-1-1 right away if you detect any signs of stroke.

Know Your Risk

Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the United States. Six thousand New Yorkers die each year from a stroke. Risk factors include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, tobacco use and obesity. Among adults in upstate New York, more African Americans and Hispanic Americans self-report experiencing a stroke compared with those who self-identify as White.

“Anyone with any of the risk factors for stroke should speak with their doctor about medical interventions or lifestyle changes to reduce their risk,” said Dr. Massa. “And everyone should know the acronym F-A-S-T, so they can recognize when someone is showing signs of a stroke and can summon medical help immediately.”

Excellus BCBS created a free and downloadable educational poster, “The Sudden Signs of Stroke,” available at https://tinyurl.com/y9jq46wt .

Learn more at CDC.gov/Stroke.

Picture of a woman holding her head in her hands

Domestic violence and abuse can happen to anyone; it does not discriminate

News outlets across the country have reported a rise in domestic violence during the COVID-19 pandemic –when families are essentially confined to homes, where a victim can’t easily escape an abuser. Abusers have more tactics at their disposal when victims can’t easily get away from home.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men in the United States have experienced violence from a partner in their lifetime — and the risks to victims can be severe.

Seeking Help

Victims of domestic violence face more social isolation in general, even when there isn’t a widespread pandemic.  With the multitude of entities closed to the public, it is important for those in high risk situations to know that courts and many domestic violence organizations, phone hotlines, and shelters are available to help.

Domestic violence organizations are also working to develop new strategies to support victims during the pandemic, such as offering hotline services through online chats or texting, in case victims cannot call with an abuser at home.

Resources Available

Below are links to local organizations that can provide you with information on how to stay safe from domestic abuse or get help if needed:

Buffalo:

Crisis Services: http://crisisservices.org/

Western NY 211: http://www.211wny.org/

Family Justice Center: https://www.fjcsafe.org/

Erie County Department of Social Services: https://www2.erie.gov/socialservices/domestic-violence

Rochester:

Willow Domestic Violence Center: https://willowcenterny.org/

YWCA of Rochester & Monroe County: https://www.ywcarochester.org/

YWCA Emergency Housing page:  https://www.ywcarochester.org/what-we-do/housing/emergency-housing/

Catholic Family Center: https://www.cfcrochester.org/our-services/empowering-the-vulnerable/shelters/

Sojourner Home: https://www.sojournerhome.org/

Domestic Abuse Support Services – 2-1-1 Life Line: https://211lifeline.org/categories.php?cat=DomAbuse

Domestic Shelters search site (by zip code or city): https://www.domesticshelters.org/

Southern Tier:

Crime Victims Association Center: http://www.cvac.us/

Family Violence Prevention: http://www.gobroomecounty.com/fvpc

Catholic Charities of Chemung and Schuyler: https://cs-cc.org/

Syracuse:

Vera House: https://www.verahouse.org/

Salvation Army Women’s Shelter: https://syracuseny.salvationarmy.org/

211 CNY: https://www.211cny.com/catsearch.php?cat=dovh

Utica

Mohawk Valley YWCA: https://www.ywcamv.org/what-we-do/domestic-violence-services/

Help Restore Hope Center: http://www.helprestorehopecenter.org/

Opportunities for Otsego: http://www.ofoinc.org/find-program/violence-intervention-program/

 

photo of a woman checking her blood sugar

Taking Charge of Your Diabetes – Now More Important Than Ever

Bob Russell was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 25. Today, he is the Upstate New York Area Executive Director of the American Diabetes Association (ADA). He’s aware of the importance of managing the risks associated with diabetes.

Pictures of Bob Russell speaking at ADA events

Bob Russell, Upstate New York Area Executive Director of the American Diabetes Association

“Diabetes can affect anyone at any time,” Russell said. “Being aware, paying attention to your body and taking time to take care of yourself is even more important in our current environment.”

There are an estimated 1.6 million adults in New York living with diabetes, according to the New York State Department of Health. This chronic health condition, where the body doesn’t produce or properly use insulin to digest sugar (glucose), can cause serious illness and damage many parts of the body if it’s not managed properly.

People with diabetes can jeopardize their health by failing to take necessary steps to keep their chronic illness in check. Many risk factors for diabetes can be reduced by maintaining a healthy weight and diet, staying physically active and avoiding tobacco.

Managing Diabetes is Now More Important Than Ever

As diabetes affects the immune system, diabetics have an increased risk for infections, including respiratory viruses, that includes the family of coronaviruses and COVID-19.

“Managing our diabetes now is critically important,” he said. “This virus poses a challenge to those of us who are living with diabetes.”

Photo of Bob Russell standing at a podium holding a microphone

Bob Russell, Upstate New York Area Executive Director of the American Diabetes Association

Take Time to Take Care of Yourself

While many of us are currently working from home and sheltering in place, our routines have changed. People living with diabetes need to continue to watch what they eat and monitor blood sugar levels.

“We’re home and not as active,“ said Russell. “We need to continue to keep our numbers in check. Making small changes can help you be more in control of what you’re dealing with and can help you in the long run. You don’t have to give up the things you love. You just have to do things differently.”

One of the things Russell is doing differently is substituting a big breakfast of bacon, eggs and toast each morning with a protein shake that has less than 10 grams of carbs. “It’s a nice, simple way to take care of yourself,” he says.

Picture of a man mixing a shake

Bob mixing his daily shake (photo courtesy of Bob Russell)

“And we need to continue to stay active,” he adds. “The outdoors is still open to us, so go outside and take a walk around the block!”

Russell says everyone, and especially those with chronic disease, must be aware of their environment. “Social distancing is crucial. I limit where I put myself. I carry wipes and use hand sanitizer all the time.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recommends wearing cloth face coverings when going into public settings where social distancing may be difficult to maintain.

A Focus on the Spirit and the Psyche

He also says that social interaction is as important as social distancing, especially for those with a chronic condition. “With what’s going on, it’s easy for us to get stressed or even panicked,” he said. “Turn off the news and connect with friends or loved ones. We have to focus on our spirit and our psyche. It’s good for our mental health.”

He encourages those with diabetes or any chronic condition to reach out to support organizations for help.

“The American Diabetes Association is available anytime to help our community,” Russell says. “We’re in this together.”

Additional resources:

How A Call to the 24/7 Nurse Line May Have Saved a Life

In honor of National Nurses Week, we’re sharing stories that celebrate the compassion, empathy and kindness demonstrated by nurses and other medical professionals throughout our upstate New York communities.

The Call That May Have Saved A Life

When Grace (pseudonym) felt uneasy and scared about her husband’s worsening health condition, she turned to a nurse for guidance.

A registered nurse with the Excellus BlueCross BlueShield 24/7 Nurse Call Line answered the call for help. The nurse provided guidance and support that ultimately resulted in a diagnosis that may have saved his life. What his wife thought was COVID-19 turned out to be a heart attack and pneumonia.

Picture of a woman wearing a headset working at her computer.

Marleen Rein (photo courtesy of Marleen Rein)

“To find out that the chest pain, cough and shortness of breath was due to a myocardial infarction (MI) and pneumonia was shocking to the member. This call may have saved this man’s life,” said Marleen Rein, RN, a care manager with Excellus BlueCross BlueShield.

Nurses Making a Difference

Knowledge, compassion and ability to listen are qualities that are instinctive for many nurses and other health care professionals. Frontline helpers are making a difference on the health and wellbeing of upstate N.Y. communities.

“The nurses who answer our 24/7 call line don’t often know what happens to these individuals after they call us,” said Michelle Borth, RN, Director of Health Care Improvement with Excellus BlueCross BlueShield. “Hearing these types of stories reinforces the important work that our nurses do and the impact they have on people’s lives.”

The 24/7 Nurse Call Line focuses on the health and well-being of Excellus BlueCross BlueShield members, providing support and education through specially trained registered nurses, who offer compassion, empathy, and kindness while ensuring members are directed to the most appropriate care setting.

Access to Medical Advice 24/7

Marleen says care managers, like herself, continue to work with the member after the initial call by following his or her recovery through education to help avoid any reoccurrences, and by bringing in expert advice on questions around medications, diet, and physical activity.

“The ultimate goal is to help the member have a good understanding of their current health conditions and know how to prevent this from happening again,” Marleen said.

The efforts 24/7 nurses make in creating a healthier, more secure community is supported each day through easy access for members to seek advice whenever they need it, day or night.  Thank you to the nurses and other medical professionals who are making a difference in our lives.

The 24/7 Nurse Call Line is a service provided to Excellus BlueCross BlueShield members to support their relationship with their health care providers. The information provided is intended to help educate members, not to replace the advice of a medical professional. If you are experiencing severe symptoms such as sharp pains, fever, loss of bodily function control, vomiting or any other immediate medical concern, dial 9-1-1 or contact a physician directly.

Picture of a person's shoe being tied on a rock.

2020 Plans and Resolutions Thwarted? Now what?

Many of us start the year by setting New Year’s resolutions or making plans for what we want to accomplish over the coming months. Maybe you signed up for your first 5K road race or had just enrolled in a professional development course. Perhaps you were planning a once-in-a-lifetime vacation or had resolved to finally pay off debt. If you’re feeling upset about not seeing your plans come together, you’re certainly not alone. During this time, it’s important to acknowledge your feelings so that you can start building toward what to do next.

Remember Your “Why”

Think about why you wanted to accomplish your goals in the first place. Maybe, the bigger goal of running that 5K was to improve your health. Perhaps the ultimate reason behind your vacation was the desire to spend quality time with your family. Start revisiting your goals by remembering why you set them in the first place. Remembering your “why” can help keep you grounded in your motivation for doing things and springboard new ideas for how you can still achieve what you ultimately want, even if it is in a new way.

Shift Your Focus to “How”

Once you’ve reflected on your bigger goals, think about ways you can shift your plan to still get what you want. If your professional development course is off the table, consider books or podcasts on similar topics to help you grow professionally. Enjoy the process of working towards fitness goals by being mindful of how the activity makes you feel. For example, maybe you’ve realized that going for a run gives you more energy throughout the day and lowers your stress. If your goal was a house project or renovation, consider doing a smaller project like organizing drawers, cleaning out the attic or planting flowers.

Recommit Where You Can

If the chaos of these uncertain times has made it hard for you to remain motivated, consider small adjustments you could make to recommit where you can. Perhaps you vowed to avoid screens after dinner but are finding yourself catching up from work in the evenings. Instead, consider taking a real break for lunch to spend time outside, away from the screens. If you struggle with getting consistent exercise without that 5K race, consider picking a date on the calendar to run your own race – you can even enlist family or neighbors to cheer from the sidelines.

Make Short-Term, Realistic Plans For Now

After some reflection, you may find that you would benefit from some new goals altogether. When setting new goals, focus on short-term plans that are within your control. Plan to cook a special meal or get take-out from a favorite restaurant. Enjoy a themed movie night with your significant other (my suggestion, enjoy a double feature I call “Swayze Saturday” and watch both Dirty Dancing and Ghost). Find an obscure holiday to celebrate with your kids. For exercise, take advantage of working from home with a daily lunchtime walk. You’ll likely find many small ways you can set short-term, achievable goals that tie back to your “why.”

How You Want to Feel vs. Things You Want to Do

At the end of the day, remember the bigger picture. Think about how you ultimately want to feel or what impact you want to have on others. You may find that you’re well on your way to achieving your goals after all.

Photo of a nurse tying a face mask around her head.

Kathy Gorall: How Military and Nursing Training is Helping Patients

The same day she received her nursing degree from SUNY Brockport, Kathy Gorall RN, BSN, was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the US Air Force, choosing the Air Force because it allowed her to experience all different areas of hospital nursing care.

Picture of Kathy Gorall. She has brown hair and glasses.

Kathy Gorall (photo courtesy of Kathy Gorall)

After leaving the military, she put her Air Force experience to work in a hospital emergency room and cardiac catherization lab before joining the nursing team at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield. Kathy currently works as a medical specialty drug coordinator.

However, there was one Air Force experience she never expected to follow into her civilian career: preparing a mobile hospital.

On the Front Lines

In early March, Monroe County saw its first cases of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, and local hospitals began implementing drive-thru test sites amid the outbreak.

“I work as a per diem nurse at an urgent care center to keep my patient skills sharp,” Kathy said. The urgent care center is located on the grounds of a local hospital, and when the hospital decided to put up test and triage tents outside of the urgent care, she volunteered to help, taking on additional shifts.

“It felt like I was back in the Air Force. They created a mobile hospital in a day. It’s what I would have needed to do in a war situation,” she said. “Training prepares you to be able to quickly assess who needed to be tested and who didn’t.”

She said working in the fast-paced setting, performing exams in a car, in a tent, outfitted in face shields and protective gear, standing all day in the cold, was challenging but worthwhile.  “We’re here to support the community. Patients don’t know what to expect and they need someone to say, ‘It’s ok, you’re going to be ok. Go home and take care.’ They need reassurance.”

Picture of Kathy Gorall wearing protective equipment and gown

Kathy on the front lines (photo courtesy of Kathy Gorall)

Did she have any fears about the risk of working with a contagious disease? “I had a little fear in the beginning, but once I got there, I felt protected. We wear protective gear, we’re cautious, constantly changing gloves, washing our hands. I feel good. It’s the right thing to do to be out there and seeing patients.”

We are All In this Together

Back at her day job with Excellus BlueCross BlueShield, Kathy supports members and providers from her home office. As a nurse coordinator for the medical specialty drug unit, Kathy works with doctors’ offices on drug reviews for patients with complex diseases. During this unprecedented time, Kathy and her team are working to make the drug review process as flexible and convenient as possible.

“For example,” said Kathy, “during this time of social distancing, our team offers guidance and assistance to providers who have patients who would benefit from receiving their medication infusion at home instead of in their doctors’ offices or hospitals.”

“I’ve also found that offices need to talk about the craziness of life. And, of course, I listen. It’s a scary time for everyone. I just try to be supportive and understand. We are all in this together.”

Service Before Self

Kathy believes her training and experience with the military and as a nurse are benefits during this time. “I am very thankful for that knowledge and mostly that I am able to help out where needed. This is a time where we all need to pull together for our world, and we’re gonna get through this,” she said. “That’s why we’re here, why we do this – to help people. I am proud to be part of that process.”

Kathy’s dedication to others demonstrates her commitment to another of her military experiences: the Air Force core value of “Service before Self.”

How have you or others helped the community as we adjust to our new normal? Share your stories in the comments below. 

Picture of a woman holding a handful of almonds.

Stocking Your Pantry with Healthy Foods That Last

Grocery shopping may be something you used to take for granted. But it’s a little more complicated these days. To minimize shopping time, it’s important to get what you’ll need in as few trips as possible. And to maximize nutrition, it’s crucial to choose healthy foods that you’ll actually eat.

The best way to achieve both objectives is by creating a well-thought-out shopping list. In addition to some fresh foods, include foods with a long shelf life. Panic buying and hoarding aren’t necessary. But having a several-day supply on hand may provide some peace of mind.

Making Smart Food Choices

First, focus on choosing nutrient-rich foods. A healthy, balanced diet provides several nutrients that may help support your immune system when eaten on a regular basis. For example:

  • Protein plays a role in the immune system’s healing and recovery processes. Sources include fish, poultry, beans, and nuts.
  • Vitamin A helps regulate the immune system. Sources include sweet potatoes, carrots, spinach, and apricots.
  • Zinc helps the immune system function normally. Sources include fish, poultry, beans, and whole grains.

Creating Your Shopping List

Next, make sure to include some long-lasting staples on your list. Here are a few suggestions. (Look for brands with low salt.)

  • Canned tuna, salmon, and sardines
  • Canned chicken
  • Peanut butter
  • Dried beans, peas, and lentils
  • Brown rice
  • Whole-grain cereal
  • Whole-grain pasta
  • Jars of pasta sauce
  • Cans or shelf-stable cartons of soup and broth
  • Canned fruits and vegetables
  • Dried fruit
  • Ultra-pasteurized shelf-stable milk

Looking for some easy recipes using common ingredients found in your pantry? Check out Pantry-Ready Recipes for Tomato Rice and Oatmeal Applesauce Bread at the bottom of the article

One last tip: Some supermarkets now have designated shopping times for older adults. Others have shortened store hours. Call ahead to check on any changes.

Getting Groceries Without Leaving Home

To avoid going out, consider ordering your groceries online from:

  • Your supermarket’s website, and asking a relative, friend, or neighbor to pick them up
  • Your supermarket’s website, and requesting delivery to your home
  • A home delivery company, such as Amazon Fresh or Instacart

Many companies delivering groceries are now taking additional precautions. For example, they may provide contactless delivery, leaving your groceries by your door rather than handing them to you directly.

Inquire about delivery fees. Also, be aware that some items may be out of stock and deliveries may be delayed. Don’t wait until the last minute to order.

What if you’re running low on food and the supermarket shelves are temporarily bare? Here are a few resources that can help:

  • Call 2-1-1
  • NY Office of the Aging: 1-844-697-6321
  • Excellus BCBS Member Care Management: 1-800-860-2619 (TTY 1-800-662-1220) weekdays, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Print Recipe
Oatmeal Applesauce Bread
Servings
Ingredients
Servings
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 475 degrees. Spray loaf pan with olive oil spray or wipe with oil, sprinkle with flour to coat, and set aside. In a large bowl, stir oats, flour, baking soda, and cinnamon together.
  2. Add applesauce, water, honey, and oil. Stir until well combined, then pour into prepared pan. Smooth top of batter so that it’s even. If desired, sprinkle salt and sugar on top.
  3. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, checking at 30 minutes to see if it is done. (It will be browned on top, but not burned, and moist in the middle).
Recipe Notes

Serves eight. A serving is 1 slice. Each serving contains about 237 calories, 4 g fat (0.6 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 0 mg cholesterol, 192 mg sodium, 43 g carbohydrates, 5 g sugar, 4 g fiber, and 7 g protein.

Print Recipe
Tomato Rice
Servings
Ingredients
Servings
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Place all ingredients except Italian seasoning into a medium-sized pot on the stove. Heat on medium high, whisking until tomato paste is dissolved.
  2. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium low. Cover, and then simmer. After about 10 minutes of simmering, stir, and then check again after 15 minutes, stir, and reduce heat to low.
  3. After 20 minutes, stir, and check again. If the rice is cooked, remove from heat and fluff with a fork. If it is not cooked, cover and cook for five more minutes. After 25 minutes, stir and check again. If it is still not done, let it cook for five more minutes, and by 30 minutes, it should be done, with almost all the water absorbed into the rice. Remove from heat and fluff with a fork. Sprinkle with Italian seasoning and serve.
Recipe Notes

Makes 8 servings. A serving is ½ cup. Each serving provides about 92 calories, 0.5 g fat (0 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 0 mg cholesterol, 77 mg sodium, 19.5 g carbohydrates, 1 g sugar, 1 g fiber, and 2 g protein.

Picture of a get well soon card in a hospital room.

Give Back by Giving Blood

“You can still go out and give blood. We’re worried about potential blood shortages in the future. Social distancing does not have to mean social disengagement.”  – U.S. Surgeon General, Jerome Adams

Donate blood to save a life!

Looking to find a way to give back to your community during these unprecedented times?

Both American Red Cross and ConnectLife (in Western New York only) are in need of blood donors. The Gift of Life can come from a critical blood transfusion just like it can take the form of a life-saving organ.

“I come from a family of doctors and medical professionals and I have seen the ever-present need of such donations firsthand. They do indeed save lives,” said Divakar Singh, Business Process Intelligence Analyst with Excellus BlueCross BlueShield.

“I have been donating blood, whole blood, double red cells and platelets since 2013. Medicine and medical technologies have had tremendous advancements over the past years. Receiving first aid and immediate care could be hampered by the shortage of the blood supply.”

Please note that blood drives are essential and in direct support to other emergency services remaining open at this time.

Note that precautions are being taken to keep everyone healthy.

For more information, visit:

Visit the links below to find a donation site near you.

https://www.redcrossblood.org/give.html/find-drive

https://www.connectlife.org/services/community-blood-donation

Photo of a person sitting barefoot in a park reading

Spring is Here: Get Outside to Do Your Mind and Body Some Good

The New York State Department of Health suggests getting outdoors to walk, jog, hike, garden, ride a bicycle or visit a park as healthy ways to stay active and reduce stress and anxiety while engaging in social distancing strategies.

“Research supports what many of us already feel,” said Bruce Naughton, M.D., Excellus BlueCross BlueShield’s vice president and chief medical officer for Medicare. “Spending time in nature does our mind and body good.”

Naughton highlights the potential benefits of getting outside:

Protect your bones

Sunlight hitting the skin eventually leads to the creation of vitamin D in your body. It’s good protection against osteoporosis and other diseases. Just 10 to 15 minutes of sunlight on your bare arms and legs a few times a week is all you need. However, if you’re going to be out longer, be sure to apply a sunscreen with UV-A and UV-B protection, and an SPF of 15 or higher.

Recharges the brain

The demands of everyday life can overtax the mind and body. Time with nature is like connecting to a recharging station, allowing us to better cope with the stresses of life. Our brains don’t have to work the same way to pay attention to nature as they do to focus on a computer screen. The possible benefits of spending time outdoors include a more upbeat mood, increased creativity, improved concentration and reduced stress.

Helps us age gracefully

Older people who get outside regularly stay healthier and function better, longer (source: ElderCareAlliance.org). Studies have shown that those who have contact with nature have fewer complaints of aches and pains, sleep issues, or other health-related problems.

Makes us move more

Americans spend 90 percent of their time indoors, so there’s no question that most of us have a sedentary lifestyle. Making an effort to be outside means there is less chance of wiling away hours plopped down in a chair inside. Instead, there’s a greater chance of moving more by puttering in the yard, or walking your dog in the neighborhood.

“I encourage you to make the most of spring by getting outdoors as soon as you can,” said Naughton. “Bring your cellphone for safety but leave the earbuds at home so you can fully enjoy the sights and sounds as the world around you blossoms and blooms. Connecting with nature will do your brain and body good.”

New York state is currently waiving all park fees in state, local and county parks. Click here to FIND A PARK.

For more information on how to practice social distancing while enjoying the outdoors, visit the New York State Department of Health website.