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Local residents step up during COVID-19 pandemic

With many gyms closing due to the COVID-19 pandemic this past spring, many turned to a free activity to maintain their health.

Naxi Lopez-Puente, a San Juan resident, has been spending the last month walking at the Hidalgo County Precinct 2 Hike and Bike Trail every morning. She says she averages at least 3.5 miles per day, or the equivalent of a 5K.

Runners take advantage of the trail at the Mission Hike and Bike Trail Wednesday, June 17, 2020. Progress Times photo by Jose De Leon III

“If I’m able to, I also walk in the evening and push it to five miles,” Lopez-Puente said.

Lopez-Puente is one of several people who have faced several stay at home orders enacted by the county weeks ago by spending time outdoors where many scientists say the COVID-19 virus isn’t as easily spread as it is indoors.

Several parks and hike and bike trails across the Valley adopted rules to let people know to continue practice social distancing by staying six feet away from other runners and wear a mask if they’re in an area with people.

“It’s something that keeps us safe,” Eusebio Velasquez said of the guidelines. The Mission native has been coming to the Mission Hike and Bike Trails for the last two weeks.

“I used to workout at Gold’s Gym four times a week but stopped going when it closed because of the pandemic and even though it reopened, I don’t feel safe going,” Velasquez said. “I used to hike here a lot when I was younger so I thought it’d make sense to come to the trails instead. Now I’m here up to five times a week in the mornings. It’s pretty fun and it feels like a great workout.”

Lopez-Puente said she started walking to make a serious effort into taking care of her health while caring for her mom, who has multiple diseases such as diabetes and is overweight, Lopez-Puente said.

“My mom is very vulnerable with multiple health issues and I can’t go anywhere to possibly expose her to it so I mainly stayed in,” Lopez-Puente recalled. “So I read that being outdoors is safe and thought ‘maybe this is the time to go out there and try to right the ship.’ I wanted to inspire my mom a little bit and make sure I don’t end up in the same position as her.”

Lopez-Puente described her activity levels prior to her new habit as “sedentary.”

“If I did any walking it was just from my computer to my couch,” she recalled.

Lopez-Puente, a reporter for a local newspaper, has been working from home since the pandemic was first reported in the Valley last March. With working from home, Lopez-Puente said she has enough time to go on a morning walk and not have to worry about rushing home to shower and taking off to the office.

“I’ve lost 9 pounds this past month and feel lighter and have a lot more energy,” Lopez-Puente said. “I used to sleep a lot but felt I wasn’t getting enough sleep and was always so tired. Now that I am physically active my body naturally wakes up by itself before my alarm goes off and I feel alert and awake. It’s helped me keep that routine of falling asleep and waking up at the right hours.”

These benefits Lopez-Puente is experiencing is of no surprise to Jaime Cavazos, a strength and conditioning specialist and owner of the McAllen-based Cavazos Sports Institute.

Cavazos says he usually jogs around his McAllen neighborhood and in the last several weeks has noticed more and more people walking or jogging outdoors.

“During these crazy times this helps with mental health,” Cavazos explained. “Running and walking helps clear your head and distracts you from thinking about work, business, or this pandemic. It’s a coping mechanism to handle stress that gets you out of the house while burning calories for a majority of our community trying to shelter in place.”

As a specialist, Cavazos recommended that anyone wanting to start taking up walking can do so by starting slow.

“A majority of people have a gung ho attitude when they begin something so they run or jog a lot at the beginning,” Cavazos explained. “After a while your body begins to feel the effects of all that exercise and fights back by plateauing. It’s why people quit within three weeks. You don’t want to push yourself all the time, you want moderate intensity at the beginning and then take it from there. Do slow progressions and it becomes a lifestyle you adapt to.”

The increase in runners is one that German Madrazo has seen. As the owner and founder of Valley Running Co., Madrazo said he’s seen an increase in new customers.

The store, located at 1701 W. Dove Ave. specializes in selling running shoes and apparel.

“We’ve had people coming in since March to buy running shoes and are showing up now to pick up a second pair,” Madrazo said. “Even with gyms reopening these people are still running outside and looking for advice and shoes to be ready to be outside. They’re scared, they know running on a pavement is different than a treadmill and want to do it right and know more on proper nutrition and hydration.”

Madrazo runs around his McAllen neighborhood and says he’s seen more and more runners outside.

“Now there’s foot traffic when I go out. I’ve noticed it in the trails and in my neighborhood,” he said. “It’s a form of meditation. All of my thoughts get organized when I run and it also keeps me healthy. If people want to do it, don’t be afraid. Do it. Running is like any sport, the more you do it the better you get at it. The more you get at it, the more comfortable you’ll be. There are so many things that can happen when you run.”

Lopez-Puente shared similar advice to people just starting to go outside, and said she did something similar when she started walking.

“I started going just for a mile and then it increased,” she explained. “I now feel off when I don’t go for a walk. Doing this has taught me there is no reason to join a gym, I’ve tried it many times and only ended up with a big bill. All you have to do here is just walk.”

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