Health Tips: How to make sure your masks provide max protection

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When Antonio Banderas starred in the 1998 film “The Mask of Zorro,” audiences were glad to go along with the fantasy that covering the mysterious hero’s upper face and nose with a small black mask made it impossible to figure out who he was. But we now know that his identity -- and his safety -- would have been better protected if he had worn two masks.

That’s what the latest research published in the American Journal of Infection Control indicates when it comes to shielding yourself from COVID-19. Researchers from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health tested various masks and ways of masking and found fit modifications improve protection from infection.

Unmodified masks (cloth or medical) block around 56% of cough aerosols and around 42% of exhaled aerosols. But if you double mask, with a cloth mask over a medical mask, you block around 85% of coughed and 91% of exhaled aerosols.

Even better: If you add an elastic brace over a medical mask, you can block 95% of cough and 99% of exhaled aerosols. (An elastic brace goes over the mask, sealing the edges, and is secured with two bands around your head.) And an N95 mask may do even better when appropriately fit.

As Omicron spreads and Delta continues to cause serious complications, straining the health care system to the max, it’s smart to adopt the most-effective masking techniques when you’re in crowded areas outdoors and in all indoor spaces -- it’s just good common sense.

Nordic walking can help you lay claim to better health

Norseman Leif Eriksson spotted North America 500 years before Columbus -- and, unlike earlier sailors who had looked at the rocky terrain from the safety of their sailing vessels, he and his crew set foot on Baffin Island, Labrador and Newfoundland, where they wintered. Those Nordic walks through uncharted territory provided the adventurers with plenty of physical and mental stimulation -- and tales to tell when they safely returned home to Greenland.

Nordic walking may be uncharted territory for you too -- but fortunately it’s just as rewarding physically and mentally today, with none of the risks Eriksson faced.

If you want to up the benefits of your 10,000 steps a day, get a hold of two Nordic walking poles. Holding the poles behind you as an extension of your arms, you move them to match your foot stride. With every step, you apply force to the pole, propelling yourself forward and increasing workout intensity, with no added strain on your joints in your lower body. You will:

-- Activate 90% of your body’s muscles and burn 46% more calories than regular walking.

-- Up your aerobic activity by 25%.

-- Tone your arms, shoulders and back muscles while you improve your core strength and posture.

-- Bonus: For people with Parkinson’s, it has been found to help with posture and balance, quality of gait and quality of life, too.

So explore the benefits of Nordic walking as you stride out through your favorite park or discover new territory for your physical activity.

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