Dr. Kimberly Bauer: Staying Healthy While Phased Safe Start Reopens Whatcom County
Staying healthy has become more important than ever in light of the impacts of the coronavirus, COVID-19. But how do we protect our health while also honoring Safe Start, Stay Healthy restrictions? To find out, we spoke with naturopathic physician and midwife, Dr. Kimberly Bauer, of London Health Center in Ferndale, WA.
“Even though we’re supposed to continue to self-isolate, I’m telling my patients to get outside all the time. Thankfully, we’re not being restricted from the great outdoors,” notes Dr. Bauer who specializes in natural health care for the whole family, from infanthood to elderhood. “The way we serve patients has changed quickly. I’ve had a few recent appointments that I call ‘walking pre-natals.’ I do the quick belly check and necessary clinical stuff that I do with equipment and then we put on masks and take a walk around the neighborhood. With all patients, but especially my pre-natal patients, it’s also about relationship building. The path for midwifery patients includes understanding the patient’s dreams and wishes for their delivery and you’re trying to educate them. So we hit the road and go for a 25-minute walk instead of staying in the office.”
Naturopathic medicine has been practiced in different ways around the world for centuries. “Naturopathic medicine grew out of the roots of the basic tenets of ‘Do No Harm’ which mainstream doctors also still hold to. We use the body as the strongest component of the doctor patient relationship,” explains Dr. Bauer. “So a person who keeps themselves healthy physically, with their diet and with their mind/body/spirit interaction generally can avoid disease. But mainstream doctors frequently see patients that have veered so far from the path of natural healthy living that they have a disease. What’s so beautiful about Parkscriptions is that it dovetails beautifully with naturopathic medicine where we encourage a holistic approach to taking care of yourself—body, mind and spirit. Part of that is getting out into the natural world, getting exercise, breathing fresh air and interacting with the real world, not just a screen.”
The Added Stresses of Life Changes Due to COVID-19
“Not everybody is wealthy or able to work from home or have the financial buffer to not work right now. I have patients who live in apartment buildings, or maybe they’re working at a long-term care facility and are still going in to work each day. They have that extra stress of COVID-19 and being fearful about when they are going to get it. It is really hard on people,” Dr. Bauer explains. “The natural world has a very sustaining effect on human nature. If we allow ourselves to sink into the rhythm of the natural world you can feel some solace and trust that the page is going to turn. There are tragedies that happen on a human scale but the Earth will persist. That feels really reassuring and grounding to people.”
While any exercise is good, Dr. Bauer emphasizes that exercise outside has additional benefits. “A treadmill in your house is good and going to the gym is good, but how about hitting the trail?” She likes having Parkscriptions’ web tool, Whatcom ParkFinder, as a resource. “We can ask, does the park have a dog area or paved trails for a stroller. We can look it up and talk about where they’ll go once a week or whatever frequency is right for each person,” she adds.
“In my practice, I see men, women and children at every stage of life from newborns to the elderly and I love working with these folks throughout their lifespan, trying to steer them to a safe harbor as they age,” continues Dr. Bauer. “Part of that is getting people outside. I think its hard to be a healthy human animal and not be outside. We need a relationship with the greater world.”
Staying Active While Staying at Home
“I’ve been telling my patients, ‘You can’t hug a person but you can hug a tree!’ I’m encouraging all my patients, especially since gyms are shut down, to make sure they’re getting outside twice every day as a minimum.” She adds, “Take a big long walk at least once a day. If you do it in a park, choose one that isn’t crowded. But it doesn’t have to be this idealized vacation that takes time and money. It can be as simple as feeling that moment when you need a break and instead of sitting on the couch or at your desk and flipping through channels or your phone, instead going out in your own back yard and just laying in the grass. There is something very nourishing about that experience.”
Dr. Bauer suggests rekindling a time in your past when you enjoyed time outside. “When people are working every day, especially over about 35, they sometimes forget the simple pleasures. I try to help people remember their school or college days when they would just go have a picnic,” notes Dr. Bauer. “I do it here at London Health Center during my lunch break and I did it as a student and when I teach Medicinal Botany at Bastyr University in the summers in Seattle. If you’re working, you can take your lunch and sit in the grass instead of at your desk. Life is so much better for the rest of the day. It doesn’t take much. But it takes breaking that habit.”
Dr. Bauer suggests being deliberate when incorporating new habits so they will stick. “Bringing your gym shoes to work and walking at lunch with friends is fabulous. Those little things that you purposefully, intentionally put into your life will keep you both exercising and reconnect you to the greater world.”
But getting outside can be a challenge for some. “For people who have a disability or really severe allergies, I tell them to go to a place where you can be protected but still in touch with nature. When things were open, I had a patient that went to a butterfly house. But that may just be sitting in the sunshine in their own window or their car.”
Dr. Bauer also suggests taking advantage of online resources when you just can’t get outside. “For example National Parks and zoos have online wildlife cameras that will help you feel connected to nature.” Explore.org offers a central connection to all kinds of nature cams around the world. From bears, African animals, birds, oceans and outdoor locations, you can connect with nature in real time from home.
Having Kids at Home During Safe Start, Stay Healthy
“I love homeschooling. It’s a no brainer for me but I realize it’s not easy for everyone,” explains Dr. Bauer, who has two children who are 7 and 11. “In addition to their online learning through school, one of the things we’ve instituted that’s really fun is that we have a lilac in our yard. I have my 11-year-old doing a journal where she goes out each day and observes the lilac blooming. This is the perfect season for that. She really looks at it and asks herself what’s changing and she measures four leaves, she’s sketching the flowers. She’s going to graph it. She doesn’t know that it’s all for math and science but she’s watching nature unfold. Most of us have never done that. Even something as simple as that, watching nature take its natural course, can be very grounding and inspiring.”
Connecting with nature can help us cope with the stress and uncertainty related to COVID-19 and in general. “My husband is in his mid-50s and when he is feeling bummed about politics and the world or whatever he’ll say, ‘You know what, at least spring still works.’ We can be depressed and upset, but you know what, flowers will still come up. It’s really a beautiful exercise that connects you with nature and you usually feel better afterward.”
Dr. Bauer is encouraging everyone to take advantage of this unprecedented time as a call to make our health a top priority, both for yourself and for others. “This time is so key for people who are stuck at home to reunite with nature. If you’ve never had a relationship with your local park and you’ve only done it for big dramatic vacations once a year to Tahoe or something, this is the time to build one,” concludes Dr. Bauer. “The Parkscriptions program is exactly what needs to be done. Plugging in to the relationship between health, the health of our great outdoors and getting people out into it is so very important.”
This post was written by Lorraine Wilde, owner of the publicity strategy business, Wilde World Communications. She has been a freelance writer since 1998, having published more than 250 pieces in blogs, magazines and books. Throughout 25 years in the Pacific Northwest, she’s also been a teacher, actor, filmmaker, environmental scientist, and mother. She is honored to use her business to amplify the voices and share the stories of the nonprofits and small businesses she serves.