As States Get Back to Business, Here Are Some Activities to Avoid

Pile of paper medical masks on blue background. COVID-19

It’s been six months since COVID-19 first hit our shores, and the pandemic is far from over. There is no vaccine and no cure. And yet, despite a recent uptick in cases, all 50 states have reopened in some way or another. 

For millions of socially-starved Americans, this news might come as a welcome relief. However, until there is a vaccine, we’re all living with some degree of COVID-19 risk. Just because you can chill at a bar, hit the gym, or grab a bite to eat at your favorite restaurant doesn’t mean you should. With COVID still looming large, some situations are riskier than others.

As more and more cities get back to business, it’s important to educate ourselves about potential hotspots for exposure. To help you figure out which plans to keep and which to cancel, we’re giving you the rundown on the most dangerous places to hang around during the pandemic.

#1. Bars and Nightclubs 

Heading to the local watering hole and throwing back a few with friends is a bonding ritual as old as time. But unfortunately, bars are among the worst places to hang out during a pandemic.  

Overall, crowded, indoor areas with poor ventilation pose the highest risk. Not only do bars encourage close quarters, but they make it difficult for people to wear masks. Even if someone walks into a bar wearing one, they inevitably have to remove their mask to eat or drink. What’s more, bars are jam-packed with people speaking loudly, shouting, and cheering—all of which have a higher potential for droplet spread. 

Finally, let’s be real—when’s the last time you made a really good decision in a bar? Getting intoxicated impairs judgment, which means you’re less likely to act in a safe manner. 

In the words of Dr. Anthony Fauci, “Bars: really not good.” 

#2. The Gym

Who knew that taking a bunch of people, packing them into a small space, encouraging them to exercise (and expel droplets), then adding a bunch of difficult-to-clean equipment to the mix would create a petri dish for COVID?

Even before COVID, gyms were are a hotbed of germs. (We’re not kidding: One study showed that 63 percent of the surfaces in gyms are covered in rhinoviruses.)

Right now, outdoor activity is always safer than indoor exercise. If you do decide to go to the gym, be incredibly diligent about social distancing and stay six feet away from others at all times. Thoroughly wipe down all equipment you touch, including weights, bars, benches, buttons, machine rails, handles, and knobs. It’s also best to bring a personal water bottle and avoid communal drinking fountains entirely. 

Because well-ventilated buildings lower your risk of breathing in viral droplets, take a good, hard look at the ventilation system in your gym. If your go-to spot has always been—for lack of a better word—a little smelly, that’s a sign of poor ventilation. 

Finally, there’s the issue of masks. We know exercising while masked is unpleasant, but it’s essential while indoors. If you haven’t already, invest in a cloth mask before hitting the gym—they’re much more comfortable and breathable than paper surgical masks, which can become damp and lose their effectiveness.

Looking for a safer alternative to communal exercise? Try a group class outside.

#3. Hair and Nail Salons 

Beauty may be pain, but it really isn’t worth dying for. 

It’s physically impossible to stay six feet apart when getting your hair or nails done. That’s concerning, considering that COVID-19 spreads through close, person-to-person contact with infected people.  

While the safest grooming option is DIY, many folks don’t feel comfortable cutting their hair at home.

If you do decide to see a professional, keep in mind that exposure time plays a role in spreading the virus. The CDC definition of “prolonged exposure” is 15 minutes. So, if you’re getting a super-quick, 15-minute haircut, wearing a mask, and staying six feet away from other clients, going to the salon is relatively safe. 

Dyeing, bleaching, and other chemical salon treatments are riskier, however. That’s because you’re spending an extended period of time indoors in close contact with your stylist. If you choose to continue chemically treating your hair during COVID, try breaking your usual cut and color into two shorter appointments to avoid a prolonged encounter. 

Regardless of the salon service, make sure your stylist sterilizes their tools between each client. Finally, wear a mask while in the salon and clean your hands frequently, either through washing or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

#4. Public Transportation 

Riding public transportation means having prolonged exposure to other passengers in small, confined spaces. That’s risky. It’s virtually impossible to disinfect contaminated surfaces between each rider, too, upping your chances of contracting the virus. 

If you don’t have a car, walking and cycling are the safest choices. 

Your next safest option is a rideshare service like Lyft or Uber, or a private taxi. When riding, sit in the back seat to maintain social distance—even if you’re healthy. You should also wear a mask, wipe down any surfaces that you touch, and keep the windows open to increase air circulation.

We know that rideshares and taxis can get expensive, so you may occasionally have to board a bus or train. When you do take public transit, try to travel at off-peak times and avoid morning and evening rush hour. Stay away from super-packed train cars and buses, and don’t board if you count more than 10-15 passengers at a time. 

While using public transportation, wear a mask, and follow social distancing guidelines by staying at least six feet away from your fellow passengers. Even though transit systems have stepped up their cleaning and disinfecting efforts, don’t touch anything you don’t absolutely have to, including poles and handrails. And whatever you do, don’t touch your face while riding. 

As soon as you reach your destination, wash your hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. 

#5. Theaters, Sporting Events, Concert Venues

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again—large groups of people crowding into enclosed spaces? Not great during a pandemic. Unfortunately, that means places like movie theaters, sporting events, and concert venues pose a high risk to attendees. 

Much like bars, concerts and sporting events are made extra dangerous by crowded seating arrangements, ultra-close contact, droplet-inducing shouting, cheering, and drinking. And smaller venues like movie theaters? Close quarters and air conditioning systems can quickly spread the virus. Plus, since movie theaters and popcorn are almost inseparable, people will almost certainly remove their masks to eat and drink. 

If you’re starved for summer fun right now, you’re not alone. Luckily, there are less risky options than catching a movie or heading to a game. 

Two of the safest summer activities are camping and hiking. Just be sure to stay at least six feet away from others, even outdoors, and bring disinfecting supplies along with you.

Camping with family or friends? It’s best to drive out with people in your household who are either uninfected or have been safely practicing social distancing for at least two weeks.

One thing to keep in mind while enjoying the great outdoors: Using public bathrooms, especially ones that don’t get cleaned frequently, ups the risk for contracting the virus. Finally, be sure to wear a mask while inside the restoom and wash your hands afterwards.

Interested in COVID-19 testing? ZOOM+Care offers both viral and antibody testing options. Learn more about the benefits and limitations, and get tested today.

Hey Zoom: How Do I Stay Safe While Exercising My Right to Protest?

Black Lives Matter protest outside ZOOM+Care

Hey Zoom, 

I want to show my support for the Black Lives Matter movement by marching, but I’m worried about COVID-19. Do you have any advice for protesting safely during a pandemic?

Our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Erik Vanderlip, weighs in with some advice:

That’s an excellent question.

Staying safe and supporting our Black and African American communities are not mutually exclusive endeavors. Police brutality and racism are lethal public health issues that both predate and contribute to COVID-19. Embracing the struggle for racial justice should engender safer, healthier communities for all of us.

The challenge is that, yes—right now, we are in the middle of an unprecedented pandemic. We are seeing a rise in COVID-19 cases within the communities we serve. As we show our support to Black Lives Matter, we can’t sweep the threat of COVID-19 under the rug. In reality, ignoring safety concerns threatens African Americans as much, if not more, as communities of color are more likely to bear the brunt of our shared disregard for public health and safety. A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that racial and ethnic minority groups experience disproportionate risk of illness and death from COVID-19.

There are several things you can do to protect yourself and others if you’ve chosen to show solidarity by protesting or marching. Firstly, don’t go if you’re having symptoms! There is a very real risk of asymptomatic transmission, but the presence of COVID-19 symptoms likely means you’re more infectious. So, if you’re having symptoms, stay home, take care of yourself, and limit others’ risk. As a reminder, the symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, cough, shortness of breath, sore throat, nausea, loose stools, generalized aches and pains, and the recent loss of taste or smell. 

Secondly, wear a mask in public. Prioritize large-scale outdoor gatherings over indoor gatherings, as the risk of transmission is lower in open-air environments.  

Health experts are urging protesters not to sing and shout to reduce the threat of person-to-person transmission. However, I understand how some of these tips can be difficult to follow. If you’re angry and frustrated, you want to express that feeling—and loudly! Because shouting especially raises the risk of transmission, consider ways to either magnify your voice with noise makers or instruments. These can help amplify your message while reducing shouting and vocalizing.  

Finally, don’t forget to wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands. Bring along a hand sanitizer that’s at least 60% alcohol-and-gel based. Use it frequently, and avoid touching your face. Masking should also help deter face-touching. Consider using the restroom before going out in public to minimize group bathroom breaks. Avoid sharing drinks, cups, vape pens, pieces of pizza, and water bottles. If you want to wear gloves, go for it—but you may have to change them frequently. Gloves keep the virus from getting on your hands, so if you’re touching your face with your gloves, there’s not much point to wearing them! And remember, gloves are no substitution for proper hand hygiene. You still need to wash your hands after you take the gloves off. 

There are other safety concerns to keep in mind while that aren’t related to COVID-19. We’ve seen many protest-related injuries in our clinics, including sprains, strains from long walks, and burns. When attending a protest or march, wear protective clothing such as long sleeves, pants, and comfortable shoes. Wear things you feel comfortable in that cover, but aren’t too restrictive, in case you come into contact with some hazardous materials.

If you don’t feel safe attending protests or marching, remember that there are many ways to support the Black Lives Matter movement. Meaningful action can take the form of more than marching or protesting. It can mean individual volunteering. It can mean writing a letter to your local representative, signing petitions, joining a task force, donating money, time, expertise, or other resources to groups also fighting for Black Lives Matter.

The best gift you can give a cause is your attention and time. We all have a part to play in the fight for racial justice. While our roles might look a little different, it doesn’t make them any less important. 

Remember what you’re at the protest for. Both COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter are marathons rather than sprints—don’t sacrifice both by burning yourself out. We’re going to need everyone’s efforts in the coming months and years to see our communities achieve the health and safety they deserve.

Have a question for one of our providers? Write us at marketing@zoomcare.com.

New Year’s Resolution: Think Beyond the Fad Diet

Fad diet weight loss

Atkins. Alkaline. South Beach. Cabbage Soup. Carnivore. (?!) There are so many diets masquerading as a panacea for weight loss—a magic potion that will help you shed those pesky pounds. 

There’s just one problem: According to science, super-restrictive fad diets are not a long term solution for weight loss. Studies, both past and present, have shown time and time again that the weight loss from these plans is temporary at best. 

For example, in 2007, researchers from UCLA conducted a comprehensive analysis of 31 long-term diet studies. According to Traci Mann—Associate Professor of psychology at UCLA and lead author of the study—the results painted a “bleak picture” of the effectiveness of fad diets. 

“You can lose five to ten percent of your weight on any number of diets,” Mann writes in the study. “But then the weight comes back. We found that the majority of people regained all the weight, plus more. Sustained weight loss was found only in a small minority of participants.” 

A team of Harvard-affiliated researchers came to a similar conclusion in 2015. Their study looked at whether low-fat diets (in which 30 percent or fewer calories came from fat) worked better than those that are higher in fat (including low-carb options, such as Atkins). The conclusion was that all these diets seemed to be equally ineffective. 

According to their research, the average weight loss from fad diets was around seven pounds—an amount deemed insignificant by researchers. What’s more, they noted that most people regained the lost weight after only a year.  

The side effects of fad diets. 

Effectiveness aside, super-restrictive dieting can bring a host of harmful side effects. Perhaps unsurprisingly, crash diets have been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure. 

Fad diets can also have an alarming psychological impact. Research indicates dieters are prone to elevated cortisol (i.e., the stress hormone); another study found that dieting increased stress, which in turn triggered binge eating

It makes sense, too: When you’re on a super-restrictive diet, you’re essentially demonizing food. Suddenly, the fuel that feeds your life becomes a source of undue stress. 

If not fad diets, then what?

Add, don’t restrict.  

Oftentimes, dieters set themselves up for failure by picking a plan that’s overly restrictive—and, therefore, impossible to maintain.

“Most of the data indicates that the specific diet you use to achieve weight loss isn’t that important,” says Dr. Benjamin Burton, Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine here at ZOOM+Care. “Most diets have very similar success rates. The most important variable is your ability to stick with the diet plan you have chosen. So make it something you enjoy.” 

Rather than buying into the fad diet hype, look beyond restricting macronutrients, such as fat, protein, or carbohydrates. Instead, try incorporating healthy foods into your diet in a way you like (and can actually maintain). 

Instead of focusing on what you need to cut out of your diet, ask yourself, “what healthy foods can I add to my meals today?” Choose whole, unprocessed foods that you actually enjoy eating. Challenge yourself to add lots of veggies to your morning scrambled eggs, or eat a handful of antioxidant-packed berries with your oatmeal.  

You can also try substituting one pleasurable thing for another. Love eating something crunchy with your afternoon sandwich? Sub potato chips for carrots. Are you a fan of sodas and flavored lattes? Substitute syrupy beverages with something healthier, such as tea sweetened with Stevia. 

Tell yourself it’s okay to maintain.

“Another new idea in weight loss is a weight maintaining diet,” says Dr. Burton. “Many people achieve some success with a weight loss diet, but eventually find it harder and harder to stick with it. If your eating plan is causing diet fatigue, consider transitioning to a weight maintaining diet for a short time—something that still helps control food intake, but perhaps isn’t as restrictive. Continue with the weight maintaining diet until you are ready to dive in again full force to the weight loss plan.”  

Focus on wellness, not weight. 

Research shows that exercise and nutrition improve health—regardless of whether they lead to a dramatic change in weight. That means eating nutritionally-balanced food has inherent value. So does exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, and managing your stress. This year, why not embrace new habits that are good for whole-body health, and let trendy diets take a back seat? Your body will thank you. 

Want help making your New Year’s health resolutions a reality? We’re here. ZOOM+Care’s Internal Medicine team can offer expert guidance on your wellness journey. Schedule now. 

Want to Make Your Health Resolutions Stick? Be S.M.A.R.T.

On January 1st, everything seems possible. Shedding forty pounds? Sure, why not! Eating a salad every darn day? Totally doable! Ditching cigarettes cold turkey? No prob! 

Fast-forward to February, and you’re lazing on the couch, hours deep into a Netflix binge, wearing a bag of chips as a glove. The last green thing you ate, (besides maybe a green M&M)? It’s but a distant memory. 

Trust us when we say: We’ve ALL been there. (A mere 8 percent of people achieve their New Year’s resolutions, while around 80 percent fail to keep them, according to research by the University of Scranton.) The real question is why our health resolutions fizzle.

In a word, they fail because they’re not S.M.A.R.T. (That’s capital S-M-A-R-T, an acronym meaning specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.)

A S.M.A.R.T. resolution has the following qualities: 

It’s Specific. 

Flippantly saying, “I want to lose weight” is not a goal—it’s a wish. To make it real, you need to add specificity. How much weight do you want to lose? When do you want to lose it by? What methods will you use to lose it? 

If you want to shed five pounds in two months, that’s 2.5 pounds a month. Your hyper-specific goal could be, “I want to lose .63 of a pound a week by exercising and following a dietician’s meal plan.” Numbers help you quantify your resolution, and break your big goal down into bite-sized steps. 

It’s Measurable. 

For your best shot at resolution success, create a goal with components you can track, such as duration or frequency. Resolving to exercise more? Make your objective measurable: “I will run for 30 minutes, three times a week.” Trying to get your blood pressure down? Decide how you’ll track your milestones: “I’ll check my blood pressure once a week using the same machine, and I’ll log my results on my calendar.” 

No matter your resolution, tracking your progress in a journal or app can remind you of how far you’ve come.

It’s Achievable. 

This doesn’t mean you can’t shoot for the stars. However, biting off a bigger resolution than you can chew leave you feeling defeated. Does a jog around the block make you wheeze and gasp? You may want to rethink running that resolution to run a marathon next month. A better goal might be to walk briskly for 30 minutes, five days a week—or to alternate between running and walking. Soon enough, that jog around the block will be a breeze, and training for a marathon won’t be such a lofty goal.

It’s Relevant. 

If you want your resolution to succeed, make sure it really, truly matters to you—and that you’re making it for the right reasons. Say your goal is to quit smoking: Are you doing it because your partner is nagging you? Or is it something you want to do for yourself? If you make resolutions out of a sense of obligation or (even self-hate), they probably won’t last long.

If you make resolutions with deep importance to you (rather than ones that are expected of you or things someone else wants), you’ll have a higher chance of making them stick. Think critically about what’s right for you and how your resolution can change your life for the better. Resolve to quit smoking to reduce your chances of cancer, heart attacks, heart disease, and stroke—or because you want to set a good example for your kids. With the right reasons behind you, you’re more likely to succeed. 

It’s Time-bound. 

The best “specific” and “measurable” resolutions are also time-bound. When making your goal, incorporate a realistic timeline towards reaching it. Set a limit that gives you enough time to accomplish your resolution—but not one so far off that you lose focus and forget about your goal.

It’s also helpful to create a timeline with lots of smaller, intermediate goals built-in. Focusing on the little wins will keep you on track as you make gradual progress towards your victory. It also helps you build a habit, which is something that can last you a lifetime. 

Looking for ultra achievable health resolutions?

Our Annual Wellness Exams exams are the perfect opportunity to get ahead of your health in the New Year. You can use your visit to check in about your lifestyle habits and get screened for health issues like depression, diabetes, and cancer. 

Schedule a 30-minute visit from your smartphone and get seen the same day. With zero wait time and meds-onsite, this is one resolution that’s too easy for excuses. 

Schedule Now

Your Biggest Sexual Health Questions, Answered

Condoms on a blue background. ZOOM+Care sexual health.
 

Sexuality is a normal, healthy, and positive aspect of everyday life. Yet, even in the 21st century, speaking about sex is taboo—and that carries serious consequences. When people feel ashamed to talk about their sexual health, they’re less likely to get tested, treated, and receive the information they need to prevent infections and save lives. 

At ZOOM+Care, we believe sexual health should have the same stigma as any other kind of health: none. That’s why, in honor of Sexual Health Month and World Sexual Health Day, we’re answering your most most pressing sexual health questions. Whether its vaginal pain, STIs, or mysterious genital spots, no topic is too taboo. We’re here to give you the info you need to empower yourself.

Before we dive in, a quick note about the language we use in this article. We want to make sure everyone feels included when talking about sexual health. Many of our inquirers referred to their gender when asking questions, which is totally normal. However, since not all men have penises and not all women have vaginas, we’re going to respond using words that refer to genitals rather than gender. And now that we’ve got that out of the way…

Do condoms protect you from all STIs?

First off, it’s great that you want to do everything you can to protect yourself from STIs! Here’s the deal with condoms: when used correctly, they’re really effective at preventing contact with bodily fluids (like semen and vaginal fluids) that can carry infections. However, they don’t eliminate the risk of STIs. 

Some infections, such as herpes, genital warts, and syphilis can be spread through skin-to-skin contact. Since condoms don’t cover all your skin down there, there’s still a chance you can get an STI. 

Bottom line: If you’re sexually active, it’s important to get tested regularly, even if you use condoms religiously. 

I’m a woman, and I frequently experience pain during sex. Is this normal? 

The most important thing to realize is that discomfort during sex is nothing to be ashamed of. If you regularly experience painful sex, it’s not your fault, and you’re certainly not alone. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, an estimated 75% of people with vaginas will experience uncomfortable sex during their lifetimes. 

The truth is, there are dozens of reasons for painful sex, ranging from emotional factors to infection. Today, we’ll go over a few of the most common causes. (However, we recommend consulting with a provider you trust before moving forward with any treatment.)

One common cause of painful sex is insufficient lubrication, which results in friction and discomfort. If you’re going through menopause, are postpartum or breastfeeding, you may have low estrogen levels. This can cause dryness and thin vaginal tissues, making your vagina especially sensitive and susceptible to tears. Similarly, you can experience pain from a lack of arousal. Arousal changes the sensations of genital touch and insertion, helping them feel more pleasurable. Be sure to take your time before sex, and give your body a chance to lubricate, so dryness isn’t an issue.

Another cause of pain during sex is endometriosis—a disorder in which tissue that normally lines the inside of your uterus grows outside your uterus. Endometriosis causes uncomfortable sex in approximately half the people who have it, with pain ranging from mild to excruciating. To prevent discomfort, try switching up positions, and plan sex for times of the month when you’re experiencing less pain. (Endometriosis is especially painful before and during your period.) 

Sexual pain can also be the result of an infection (such as a yeast infection), which can cause your vaginal tissue to become inflamed. Yeast infections affect your ability to self-lubricate as well, presenting yet another barrier to enjoyable, pain-free sex.

Other causes of painful sex include uterine fibroids—benign, non-cancerous uterine growths made of muscle tissue—and ovarian cysts. 

Any time you experience acute pain during sex, you should get it checked out. Zoom’s team of every-day providers and Women’s Health experts can help you sort out what’s going on (and get it treated) so you can get back to enjoying your sex life. 

Is a yeast infection an STD? 

The short answer is no, but you’re definitely not alone in thinking so. Eighty-one percent of patients believe yeast infections are sexually transmitted through their partners and can spread to another person during sex. In reality, yeast infections are the result of pH imbalance inside of the vagina (or head of the penis—people with penises can get them, too!) that leads to a buildup of yeast. Often, they’re caused by your hormones being off-kilter.

Other causes include hormonal contraceptives, stress, a weakened immune system, recent antibiotic use, and environmental conditions, like not changing out of sweaty clothes after a workout. And while a yeast infection isn’t an STD, there is a chance sex can lead to one. Sometimes, your body chemistry can have an adverse reaction to another person’s genital yeast and bacteria, which causes yeast to grow.

Is it normal to feel anxious during my period? 

Every period-having person knows—they can really wreak havoc on our bodies. The days (or sometimes even weeks) leading up to that time of the month can bring on any number of unpleasant symptoms, including bloating, cramps, fatigue, acne, breast tenderness, and a myriad of emotional symptoms.

If you’ve noticed your anxiety spike before and during your period, it’s not a coincidence. Hormones regulate our bodies as well as our mental health. During PMS, fluctuations in powerful hormones such as estrogen and progesterone can upset that balance, triggering symptoms like increased anxiety or depression. If you already suffer from an anxiety or mood disorder, these can be more severe before and during your period.

To help ease emotional extremes around your time of month, try staying active with exercise, getting enough sleep, and making small dietary changes such as reducing caffeine and eating more omega-3 fats. Mindfulness practices, such as journaling and meditation, can also help your body to find balance.

Should I get the HPV vaccine? 

We’re not here to tell you what you should do with your body, but let us put it this way: if there were a shot that could prevent STIs and cancers, you’d consider it, right? That’s what the HPV vaccine is for. 

As for why you should consider it, HPV is crazy common. There are over 150 types, and about 80 percent of sexually active people are infected with HPV at some point in their lives. Some strains of HPV can lead to cervical, anal, penile and throat cancer, which is why many doctors now recommend the vaccine before you’re even thinking about having sex. 

If you’re already sexually active or have an existing HPV infection already, getting the vaccine won’t treat it. However, it can protect you from getting and spreading other strains of HPV. 

How often should I be having sex? What’s normal?

First of all, there’s no such thing as “normal”, and there’s no one right answer to this question. Like many things in life, it’s best to focus on the quality of sex over the quantity. A healthy sexual relationship is one where both partners are getting their needs met, and—more importantly—are communicating their wants and desires. If your partner wants sex every week and you want it once a month, you should try and negotiate a win-win compromise. 

However,  if your low desire for sex concerns you, you should talk to your doctor.

While every month is the right time to assess your sexual health, we hope you use September as an opportunity to check in with yourself, get tested, and clear up any gaps in your knowledge. Want to talk to a caring professional? Schedule a daily care or gynecology visit today.

3 Science-Backed Benefits of Getting Off Your Butt (And Into Nature)

ZOOM+Care water bottle. Outdoors health tips.

These days, we spend the majority of our waking hours sitting on our backsides, staring at screens. (Upwards of 11 hours per day, apparently.) But as it turns out, your Grandma was onto something with all those “fresh air will do you good” lectures. Research suggests that it’s important to spend time in nature, and doing so is beneficial — perhaps even essential — for our mental and physical health. 

As summer marches on in the Pacific Northwest, we’re examining the evidence that nature makes us healthier, happier people. Below, three science-backed reasons to get off your butt and go enjoy Mother Nature:  

Twenty minutes outdoors is all it takes to boost your physical and mental well-being. 

Immersing yourself in nature for two hours every week has significant health benefits, according to a study published in the Journal Scientific Reports

People who spent 120 minutes a week in “green spaces” reported a significant increase in both their mental and physical well-being, compared to those who didn’t go outdoors. (No need to head for the mountains, btw. An urban park counts as a green space.) The participants didn’t need to spend that time exercising, either—as long as they were outdoors, immersed in natured, they experienced a boost in their overall well-being. 

Even better, the two hours could be spread out throughout the week. Bottom line: As little as 20 minutes outdoors per day is all it takes to see health benefits. 

Other studies show that immersing yourself in natural surroundings can decrease cortisol levels—AKA the stress hormone—and lower systolic blood pressure and heart rate. 

Going outdoors can help ease anxiety and depression. 

According to recent research, exposure to green spaces can help ease anxiety, depression, and other mental health concerns.  

One study showed that strolls through the forest increased self-esteem while decreasing anxiety and negative emotions. In another, nature walks reduced activity in the prefrontal cortex—an area of the brain that’s active during rumination. (Rumination is what happens when you get down or anxious. It’s the process of continuously thinking the same thoughts, which tend to be sad and dark.) When people feel stressed or depressed, the prefrontal cortex malfunctions, and they may experience a continuous loop of negative thoughts.

In the study, researchers compared the brain activity of healthy people who walked for 90 minutes. Half the participants strolled through a natural setting with trees and shrubs, while the other half took a jaunt through an urban environment. The nature walkers showed decreases in cycling thoughts and activity in their prefrontal cortices, while the urban walkers did not. 

Nature may increase creativity, mental energy, and focus.

Nature is the most abundant source of beauty and inspiration available to us. Is it any surprise that it enhances our creativity? One study found that people who immersed themselves in nature for four days were able to boost their performance on a creative problem-solving test by a whopping 50%.

Similarly, nature might have a “restorative” effect on our attention spans and mental energy. In another, researchers examined participants’ ability to focus. They sent some people on a hike through nature, others on an urban stroll, and instructed the rest to relax. When everyone returned, the nature group outperformed the others on a proofreading task.  

Nature’s attention-restoring effect might even extend to kids with ADHD: children’s symptoms have been found to improve after a 20 walk through the park.

While the research is compelling, we hope these insights encourage you to go outside and experience the benefits of nature firsthand. Summer is waiting!

Looking for more summer reading? Discover five common skincare bummers, and how to solve them.

5 Summer Skin Bummers (And How to Solve Them)

Pattern of orange sunscreen lotion bottles on blue background. Summer skincare at ZOOM+Care.

Just because you love summertime doesn’t mean it loves you back. Whether it’s through sun, sweltering heat, or swarms of insects, summer can wreak serious havoc on your skin. You don’t have to sequester yourself indoors, though—just take our dermatologist-approved advice for solving your biggest summer skincare bummers. 

Bummer #1: Sunburn 

Let’s face it—during the summertime, sun exposure is inevitable. To prevent a burn, you should always (and we mean always) wear a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or more. Apply protection at least 20 minutes before you go outdoors, making sure to cover some oft-missed areas: nostrils, ears, the area around your armpits, and on the tops of your feet and toes. If you plan to spend a lot of time outdoors, consider wearing a hat for additional sun protection. 

If you do slip up and get burned, use an ice compress to soothe inflammation and cool your skin. You can also slather on an aftersun lotion with aloe, and pop a couple Ibuprofen to reduce pain and swelling. Although many people try, your topical hydrocortisone cream does little to hasten the redness or the pain. If you’re not able to get relief at home, see a doctor immediately. 

Bummer #2: Poison Oak and Poison Ivy

Hiking is one of our favorite summertime activities, but it can lead to a brush with poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac. These pesky plants are coated in a sticky, long-lasting oil called urushiol—when it touches your skin, it causes a red, itchy, blistering rash. 

If you do come into contact with poisonous plants this summer, wash the area right away with soap and water. Next, treat the pain and irritation with ice-cold compresses and over-the-counter topical treatments, such as calamine lotion. While plant rashes usually resolve on their own within a few weeks, they can be extremely uncomfortable. Talk to your doctor if you have a severe reaction, or if a rash appears on your face or genitals. If you’re super miserable, a prescription for an oral steroid like prednisone might be necessary. 

As for prevention: Be aware of your surroundings, and if possible, keep your skin covered. We suggest wearing a long-sleeved shirt, long pants, and closed shoes if you’re hiking in areas where poisonous plants grow.  

Bummer #3: Bug Bites

Reality bites—and inevitably, during the summertime, so do bugs. Wearing long sleeves, pants, and close-toed shoes will help prevent insect bites and stings, but if you spend enough time outdoors, bites are bound to happen.  

Most bug bites are more than an irritating itch—they’re actually an allergic reaction to bug’s saliva, causing inflammation, redness, and swelling. Gross, right? 

We know it’s darn-near impossible, but—if the bugs do bite this summer—try your best not to scratch. Scratching creates tiny openings in your skin, allowing for bacteria and infection to make their way in. Instead, clean the affected area with soap and water, then apply a hydrocortisone cream to the bite. This will reduce redness, itching, and decrease inflammation. You can also try at-home topical remedies like aloe vera and oatmeal. 

Bummer #4: Acne 

Acne happens all year round, but people tend to break out more in the summertime. Why? When it’s hot outside, your body produces more oil, and you sweat more. Lots of sweat + oil = acne. (There’s also all the sunscreen we’ve been urging you to apply, which—while nonnegotiable—can contribute to breakouts.)

Regardless of where acne pops up, the treatment is relatively the same. Cleanse the affected area daily with a gentle face or body wash that contains glycolic or salicylic acid. You might also want to switch up your skincare routine, too—using oil-free makeup and sunscreen will ensure you don’t further clog pores. 

Bummer #5: Folliculitis

As you probably already know, every hair on your body grows out of an opening called a follicle. If follicles become infected, you develop folliculitis—itchy, acne-like eruptions that are commonly found on shoulders, legs, and thighs. 

Because bacteria love warm, moist, dark conditions, it’s super easy to contract this infection during the summer months—especially if you frequently wear workout clothes or spandex. Tight clothing compresses the hair follicle, making bacteria more likely to grow there. 

To prevent folliculitis, shower and change your clothes right after a workout. If you’re prone to breakouts, avoid wearing tight, non-breathable fabric like spandex in the summer. If you do develop folliculitis, it’ll likely clear up in a few days with basic self-care measures. However, if it persists, be sure to contact your dermatologist—more severe cases may require prescription medication. 

Woman holding a phone with information about ZOOM+Care Dermatology. Zoom is perfect for summer skin issues.

When to call a dermatologist

While these summer skin problems are definitely bummers, they’re usually not serious. Most go away in a few days to a few weeks, but—if a rash or other skin problem persists—we’re here for you. Schedule a dermatology visit today. 

Happy 4th of July! Follow These Fireworks Safety Tips so You Won’t Have Come and See Us

It’s almost the 4th of July, which for most of us means one thing, and one thing only: fireworks.  

While fireworks are fun to watch (and even more fun to light), it’s easy to forget how dangerous these 4th of July favorites can be. Last year, 9,100 people went to U.S. ­emergency rooms with fireworks-related injuries, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. 

It’s not just fireworks that send people to the ER, either. Believe it or not, sparklers—another 4th of July staple, especially among small children—were the #1 cause of Independence Day injuries. 

To help you get through the holiday with all your limbs intact, we’re rounding up some firework safety tips. Put these to good use, and you can avoid paying us a visit this 4th of July. 

  1. First things first: Make sure fireworks are legal in your area before buying them. (And before you use them, you might want to brush up on your local fireworks laws.) 
  2. Wear safety glasses when lighting fireworks. Seriously, we want you to keep both of your eyeballs! 
  3. Don’t let young children play with or light fireworks. Just, don’t. 
  4.  Never (repeat, never) point or throw fireworks at another human being. 
  5. If you decide to let your children play with sparklers, always have an adult supervise them.  
  6. Firework not ignite fully? Don’t try to pick it up or re-light it. 
  7. Light one firework at a time. After lighting the fuse, move back—quickly!
  8. Never lean your body over fireworks while lighting them. 
  9. Be prepared. Keep a hose or a bucket of water close by, just in case things go awry. 
  10.  Don’t shoot fireworks off in metal or glass containers.
  11. Some asthmatics are sensitive to the smoke that fireworks produce which can result in asthma attacks. Stand back a safe distance and be careful not to inhale firework smoke.
  12. Ah yes, booze and dangerous explosives—perhaps not the safest combination. Be responsible with alcohol while lighting fireworks.
  13.  Once you’re done, douse the fireworks with plenty of water, then dispose of them in a metal trash can.
  14. Your safest option? Leave it to the professionals and attend a fireworks display. 

Now that we’ve lectured you about firework safety, go fourth (er, forth) and have a safe, fun-filled 4th of July! 

If you do experience a firework fail this 4th of July, we’re here for you. Schedule a visit at our Super clinic—we’re open ‘til midnight on the 4th, and can treat 80% of the reasons that adults and kids go to the Emergency Room. Even better? We can do it for a fraction of the cost and time commitment.

Sun’s Out, Bikes Out. Here’s How to Prevent Common Bike-related Injuries This Summer

Man on bike next to ZOOM+Care

Every Pacific Northwesterner knows: When the sun comes out, so do the bikes.

And while cycling is a great low impact way to improve cardiovascular fitness, strengthen your lower body, and reduce your carbon footprint, there are some cons to trading four wheels for two—namely, risk of pain and injury.

So, to kick off the PNW’s prime biking season, we’re talking bicycling safety tips. Read on to discover the most common bike-related pains and injuries, and what you can do to prevent them.

KNEE PAIN

“Take up cycling,” they said. “It won’t hurt your knees,” they said. While it’s true that biking is a low-impact form of exercise, it doesn’t always alleviate knee pain—in fact, roughly a quarter of professional cyclists suffer from knee injuries. One of the most common complaints among bikers is anterior knee pain, or pain in and around the kneecap. Cyclists can get it from muscle tightness, overuse, or a poorly-adjusted bike.

HOW TO PREVENT IT:

First, check your bike fit against an online calculator. You want to make sure your bike is adjusted to your measurements, but also to the type of riding that you do. Areas to pay extra-close attention to are seat height, seat position, and the rotation and position of your cleats.  

Next, make sure you’re stretching—something cyclists often overlook. Try getting on a foam roller and gently rolling the quads, the inside of the thigh, hamstrings, and calves. Pro tip: When rolling, use long, continuous motions to add some length to your muscles—don’t go quickly up and down like a rolling pin.

ELBOW FRACTURE

During June and July, our Zoom providers see twice as many bike accidents as other months. As we previously reported, the most common injury isn’t a broken wrist or a broken collarbone, either—believe it or not, it’s the elbow. (More specifically, the radial head and radial neck.)

Why the elbow and not the wrist, you ask? When you fall and catch yourself with your hands, the impact of hitting the ground travels up your forearm, where it hits a fixed point at the elbow—which can cause the head or neck of the radius bone to fracture, or sometimes fragment.  

HOW TO PREVENT IT:

This is a tricky one. Outside of, well…not crashing your bike, there isn’t much you can do in the way of prevention. “Extending one or both arms to break a fall is something we do instinctively to protect our heads, which is good,” says ZOOM+Care’s Orthopedic Surgeon Carolyn Yang. “If you can think to do one thing as you go down, bend your elbows, which will reduce the impact on the joint.”

If you do suffer a break, be sure to visit ZOOM+Super—our Emergency Care Clinic in Portland. Super can treat 80% of the reasons adults and kids go to the ER, including breaks and bone fractures.

CHAFING/SADDLE SORES

Hours spent sitting on an uncomfortable seat + sweating in tight clothing = chafing. And while saddle sores aren’t the sexiest summertime biking injury, they’re certainly a common one.

If chafing does pop up this summer, be sure to wash daily with a fragrance-free soap, then gently pat—never rub—dry. After cleaning the area, apply an ointment like petroleum jelly to reduce friction.

One note: If the area becomes swollen, beefy red, hot, painful, crusted, or starts bleeding, be sure to schedule an appointment with a healthcare provider, who can recommend a medicated ointment.

HOW TO PREVENT IT:

If you start to develop chafing and saddle sores, take time off the bike. Seriously—constantly re-exposing the area isn’t going to help you heal.

Other preventive measures include wearing loose, breathable clothing, making sure your seat is adjusted to the proper height and angle, wearing padded shorts, and switching to a seat with better cushioning.

TRAIN TRACK-RELATED INJURIES

Ask any urban cyclist—biking downtown is akin navigating to a war zone. There are the usual dangers (read: cars, buses, streetcars), but there’s another, less-obvious foe lurking: train tracks. The gaps between the rails and pavement can easily swallow a bicycle wheel, and slick tracks can make your tires slip out from under you.

“This time of year, people are out riding their bikes all the time—and railroad tracks can be super dangerous, even for experienced riders. Every summer, we see a trend of people breaking bones because they get caught in those grooves,” says hardcore cyclist Dr. Mark Zeitzer. (He also happens to be our Medical Director of Acute Care Services.)

HOW TO PREVENT THEM

First things first: When you come a railroad crossing, slow down and make sure there is no train coming. Once it’s safe to cross, attack them from a perpendicular angle—cross at 90 degrees to the way they run, or as close as you can to that. Be sure to look out for perpendicular gaps, as well.

BACK PAIN

Is it any wonder that biking—an activity which requires you to maintain an unnatural, hunched over, position—causes back pain? While nagging back pain should be addressed by chiropractor or and or medical massage specialist, there are a few changes you can make to prevent it during the heavy riding months.

HOW TO PREVENT IT:

Similarly to knee pain, many cyclists experience back pain due to a poor bike fit. Make sure your seat is the right height and position—one that’s too low or too high can aggravate your lower back. Likewise, adjust your bike to fit your exact height and build. That way, your spine rests in a neutral—not a rounded—position.

Finally, try some core strengthening exercises like planks, leg lifts, and lunges. By strengthening your core, you’ll rely less on your lower back for power, making it easier to handle the forward position on your bike.

If you’re still experiencing chronic muscle pain in your knees or back, it might be time see an Orthopedist. The best part? You don’t need a referral—simply schedule a visit at one of our three Portland clinics. 

Looking for Hay Fever Hacks? Try These 12 Preventative Measures

allergies tissues on a blue background

Allergy season is here, and it came bearing gifts: watery eyes, scratchy throats, and uncontrollable bouts of sneezing, for starters. Whether you’ve struggled with pollen allergies your whole life or you’re feeling the effects for the first time (thanks to a particularly hellish season), there are ways to minimize your symptoms. Snuff out the sniffles with these tried-and-true hay fever hacks, vetted by our board certified care leaders:

  • Filter your air. Invest in a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter to trap pollen and provide allergy relief. Place it wherever you spend the most time, like your bedroom.
  • Switch up your routine. Don’t bring allergens to bed with you. Shower at night so pollen winds up down the drain—not sticking to your sheets.
  • Block it out. Wear sunglasses to keep allergens from getting into your eyes.
  • Put Fido in the doghouse. Pet fur is a pollen magnet. Keep your four-legged friend off your bed to help reduce your exposure.
  • And give him a bath, too.  Be sure to brush or wash your pet after they’ve been outdoors.
  • Suck it up. Regularly vacuum your home, including curtains, drapes, bedding, and furniture.
  • Don’t line dry. Avoid hanging sheets and clothes outside to dry. You’ll wind up capturing unwanted allergens and bringing them into your home.
  • Mask it. When you clean, you kick allergens up into the air. During housework, wear a dust mask to limit your exposure.
  • Mow? Just say no. Mowing your lawn is a great way to stir up pollen. If you can’t pay the kid next door to do it, wear a mask when you mow to protect your nose and eyes.
  • Watch the weather. Keep an eye on the pollen count, and stay indoors on dry, windy days. Pro tip: A great time to go outside is right after it rains.
  •  Change it up. Been outdoors? To avoid spreading allergens around your home, leave your shoes at the front door and change your clothes as soon you get inside.
  • Use a damp cloth when cleaning. Use damp, single-wipe dust rags to clean. A damp rag will trap allergens instead of knocking them into the air.  If you use reusable cleaning clothes, be sure to wash them in hot water after every use.

Looking for more allergy facts, hacks, and treatments? Find out how Zoom can help.