Annaberg trail

Stairs leading to the Annaberg ruins add a physical challenge to this route.

As the COVID-19 pandemic spread throughout the U.S., internet searches for phrases like “immune boosters” and “how to boost immunity” reached peak popularity in early- and mid-March according to Google Trends. Those who searched for ways to boost their immune system likely discovered that exercise plays a significant role in maintaining good health.

“Your first line of defense is to choose a healthy lifestyle,” according to an article posted on Harvard Medical School’s website. “Regular exercise is one of the pillars of healthy living. It improves cardiovascular health, lowers blood pressure, helps control body weight, and protects against a variety of diseases. Just like a healthy diet, exercise can contribute to general good health and therefore to a healthy immune system. It may contribute even more directly by promoting good circulation, which allows the cells and substances of the immune system to move through the body freely and do their job efficiently.”

Exercise doesn’t have to be a sweat pouring, gasping for breath type of endeavor. Simply walking 30 minutes a day provides numerous benefits that can improve overall health, possibly helping you to avoid severe COVID symptoms. As an added bonus, walking burns approximately 100 calories per mile for a 180-pound person. Activity trackers often set a goal of 10,000 steps per day. With Americans walking an average of 3,000 to 4,000 steps each day, aiming for 10,000 steps is a great way to ensure increased activity, thereby boosting your immune system and overall health. Here are a few routes you can follow on St. John for a relatively easy stroll with minimal elevation changes.

Annaberg/Francis Bay

Park at the historic Francis Bay warehouse and head out on foot toward Annaberg. This route does have a mild elevation change with the road slightly ascending then descending as you approach the mangroves. Once you reach the Annaberg parking lot, head up the stairs toward the plantation ruins — a second elevation change that is sure to increase your heart rate — before descending the paved drive and making your way back along the road to the Francis Bay warehouse. This loop will earn you about 2,700 steps. The pavement allows for easy, sure footing, and the views of Mary Creek and Tortola beyond offer a pleasing visual distraction.

If you find yourself back at the warehouse and you still have energy to burn, continue onto the well-marked Francis Bay walking trail. There’s another slight elevation change here as you pass the ruins of a charming home once owned by the Creque family, which used it as a summer getaway in the 1940s.

Past the ruins there’s a bench that overlooks the salt pond and Francis Bay beyond, a great place for a little respite if you’re in need of a break. Continue down the trail toward the beach then make a left onto the Francis Bay boardwalk which ends near the beach’s entrance, a short walk back to the warehouse. This loop clocks in at an additional 1,400 steps, for a total of about 4,100 steps.

Natural beauty abounds on this route, but one thing that’s lacking is shade, so the Francis Bay/Annaberg walk is best suited for early mornings or late afternoons.

Cruz Bay

If you’re more of a social butterfly and enjoy encountering friends and taking in the town’s hustle and bustle, Cruz Bay is a great place to get your steps in. Parking at the Virgin Islands National Park Visitor’s Center is easy to come by with the facility currently closed. From there, walk past the playground and the dinghy dock toward Cool Desires and make a right on the sidewalk. By the time you reach the post office, you’ve gone about 300 steps. Continue on to the ferry dock and make a left, then another left at Connections, and head back toward the Visitor’s Center. Once you’re back where you started, you’ve earned yourself close to 1,000 steps. Make the same loop as many times as desired and enjoy the opportunity to hail up familiar faces as you amble through town. This route has dappled shade off and on, and a sidewalk runs almost the entire length, keeping you safe from traffic.

Cinnamon Bay

The island’s beaches are a stunning place to stroll, with beauty so inspiring you might even forget about the “chore” you’re there to complete. Get the biggest bang for your buck at Cinnamon Bay, the longest of the north shore beaches at about one mile in length. The walk from the parking lot to the beach alone will earn you about 500 steps. Once you reach the beach, aim to stay on the firmer sand that’s closer to the water. Soft, dry sand or the wet, squishy sand at the water’s edge make for a difficult walk and can be hard on your knees and feet. Walk all the way down to one end of the beach, then all the way down to the other end, and by the time you’re back where you started you’ve gone about 1,700 steps. Add the walk from your car and back and you’re at 2,700 steps. Of course, there’s no shade at the water’s edge but you can easily go for a quick dip to cool down as a reward for getting in your day’s step. Happy walking and stay healthy!