The crunch. The sweetness with just a little bit of tang. That is the beauty of eating a perfect fall apple. Apple season is well underway in the Northern Hemisphere, and the trees are full of lovely red fruit.

"I think going apple picking only has pluses because you're going outside, you're being physically active," said Kathryn Boling, MD, a family medicine specialist with Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland. "It's a little bit reassuring to look and see that the earth is just doing its thing," said Dr. Boling.

Seasonal Change

Despite everything that has happened in 2020, like the California wildfires and COVID-19, the seasons are changing, as they do every year. "I think that's nice for us because there's disruption pretty much anywhere else," Dr. Boling said in an interview with Medical Daily. "Plus, the apples," she added. "They taste good [and] they're good for you." Indeed, for people headed out to pick apples this fall, there are many health benefits in store.

Apples and Oranges

Apples are full of soluble and insoluble fibers, and the peel, according to the Harvard School of Public Health, has tons of biologically active compounds, many of them antioxidants. Many of the beneficial compounds are specifically in the apple's skin. For the most significant health reward, leave apples unpeeled. Apples are by no means unique; lots of colorful fruit and vegetables have antioxidants, but the compounds in apples have been shown to have some success in preventing cancer and diabetes.

It isn't new news that fruit and vegetables play a huge role in a healthy diet and a healthy body. The fiber in apples, also found in other fruits and vegetables, nourishes gut flora and keeps food moving through the intestines. It also can work to capture small amounts of LDL, the "bad cholesterol."

An Apple a Day...

The fall is a great time for food. With the holidays right around the corner, there usually is Halloween candy, apple cider donuts, pumpkin scones and all sorts of scrumptious, spicy baked goods. Apples make a delicious replacement for some of the other seasonal sugary food. In 2003, researchers found that women who incorporated several servings of fruit in their low-calorie diets lost more weight.

How Do You Like Them Apples?

"I don't really see any negatives in going apple picking, unless you're going with a horde of people that can't maintain social distancing," said Dr. Boling. Groups going apple picking should pick their members carefully. "If they're in your bubble, it's totally safe to go with them, . . . and as long as you maintain like about six feet of distance between you and people who aren't in your bubble, then I think you're very safe."

Apple picking is done outside, so maintaining at least six feet of distance should be possible. It is also essential to follow all of the rules of the orchard. "In terms of COVID, keeping distancing, it's not a problem on the farm. We don't have that many people. On a big day, we'll have maybe 50 families. So 50 families spread out throughout the day is not a problem," said Stefan Sobkowiak. Mr. Sobkowiak runs a permaculture orchard called Les Fermes Miracle Farms outside Montreal in Canada.

Some orchards offer contactless picking; others require masks or reservations. All of these rules are intended to make apple picking a safe and fun outing for everyone. Mr. Sobkowiak's farm has members who sign up to pick, but bigger neighboring farms are moving towards a reservation system too. "People basically reserve a block of time, and it was really to spread out the peak, because a lot of people come right after lunch," he said.

For people heading into the fields, the benefits aren't just physical. They are also mental. "It's good for our souls to be outside," said Dr. Boling. She explained that even though this may not be a truly sociable experience, as people should maintain six feet at all times, it is a chance to see other people. “We need to be with other people and have socialization," she said. "It helps keep us mentally and physically healthy. It helps boost our immune system to be socializing with other people."

Often, apple picking is a bit of a festive day. There can be apple cider donuts, games, hayrides or playgrounds. Dr. Boling suggested putting on a mask before going inside. "I would put your mask on before you go indoors or if you're going to be within six feet of other people for more than a minute or two." As for hayrides and playgrounds, Dr. Boling gave a tentative yes to the first and no to the second.

"So, playgrounds, I would be a little careful of because you have little kids and they're always sticking their fingers in their mouths and rubbing their eyes and picking their nose," she said. Of course, touching the face is precisely what people should avoid doing to prevent transmission of COVID-19 and the flu. As for hayrides, Dr. Boling said, they would probably be okay if everyone is wearing a mask and keeping some distance.

For people planning a trip, Mr. Sobkowiak advised aiming for a less popular time. "If the place is open during the week, if you can go during the week, that's really a lot better. If you can only go on the weekends, I would say try to go early in the morning and later in the afternoon," he said. Going during off-peak hours spreads out crowds.

As for the apples themselves, Mr. Sobkowiak suggested asking the farmer for suggestions. "I would say if you want the big wow factor, always get the apple that is absolutely most in season the day you go." Every apple, Mr. Sobkowiak said, has a few days when it is the most delicious.

Once the apples are home, it's time to sit back and reap the mental and physical health benefits. Dr. Boling did suggest washing the apples, but typically one rinse is enough. "You're going to wash them because bugs have been crawling on them and flies have been landing on them and stuff like that," she said, "so you certainly want to just rinse them off like you would any fruit that you're going to eat, but otherwise, I don't think you have to be worried."