By Joyce Reingold
You may remember reading here last year about Eva Takacs, the Boynton Beach woman who enjoyed an almost daily, hour-long swim at Oceanfront Park. This year, Takacs celebrated her 91st birthday. And when lockdown restrictions allow and Poseidon is agreeable, Takacs is swimming still, buoyant amid the roiling waters of 2020.
“I’m hanging in,” she reports. “I had no problem with the pandemic except when the ocean was closed. Horrible. But I did get a lot of days in during the warm, flat days. I survived with help of my friends. The floor of the ocean is very irregular, so I need help getting in and out to the deep water.”
The ocean is a recurring theme in conversations with our coastal community neighbors about what they’re doing to stay healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic. The ocean is favored for bobbing, swimming and admiring; the beach as a platform for exercise, quiet contemplation and socially distanced meetups. One woman, accustomed to rising long after the sun, now digs her toes into the sand at dawn several times each month and trains her eyes and smartphone camera on the eastern sky.
Dr. N. Anton Borja, director of the Marcus Institute of Integrative Health at FAU Medicine, says spending time outdoors is one part of his Rx for staying healthy, particularly in our pandemic-shifted world.
“Here in South Florida, we have the privilege of being able to go outside and have beautiful weather the majority of the year. Many of us live close enough to go to the beach or to go to green spaces where we can still socially distance and protect ourselves from the pandemic, but still get the benefit of being out in green spaces. There’s this practice in Japan that is called ‘forest bathing.’ And the idea is just really to get out into any natural environment to de-stress and to improve our wellness.”
Reilly Gardner, another ocean lover we wrote about last year, is still reaping its benefits, too. The sunny 5-year-old lives in Delray Beach with his parents, Chris and Jessie, who moved here from North Carolina so Reilly could live near the ocean. Reilly has cystic fibrosis and the salty sea air helps keep his lungs clear.
“We are very grateful to live by the ocean and we are still going once or twice a week,” Jessie says.
Staying healthy during the pandemic is a challenge for everyone, but especially for people with chronic health conditions. Though the Gardners were already expert in disease-prevention precautions because of their experience with cystic fibrosis, they also had a deep and visceral understanding of the risks the coronavirus poses.
“It has been interesting to watch as the country finally got on board with germs,” Jessie says. “This is something that we worry about in our family on a daily basis. The best way to share what the general public was feeling is what life is like for a cystic fibrosis patient. I am always trying my best to prevent the average cold from coming into Reilly’s immune system. Of course, COVID is not an average cold and could be very deadly for someone like Reilly.”
Happily, Jessie reports that Reilly is in good health, in school, and enjoying friends, though “our friend circle has grown smaller,” she says. “We are strong believers in the wearing of masks, washing hands, and social distancing. It really is keeping it simple and sometimes that is the best.”
Keeping it simple is part of Borja’s plan for staying healthy, too. Get back to basics, he says: Make home-cooked meals, connect regularly by phone or videoconferencing with family and friends, rediscover a jettisoned hobby or throw yourself into a new one.
The FAU Wellness Hub offers free classes to help you get started: Try kickboxing, discover plant-based cooking or learn how to set intentions.
“Learning a hobby, like playing guitar or playing piano or knitting, is definitely a way to also decrease stress, and is something that can help once everything opens up,” he says.
“It’ll be a way for us to continue to improve ourselves. And then really learning to find ways to decrease stress. … Find the tools that we have within our lives to decrease stress and make us feel better.
“This is the time do to it.”
Joyce Reingold writes about health and healthy living. Send column ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.