The stay-at-home orders surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic forced many of us to change our lifestyles and behaviors, including our eating habits, sleep patterns and exercise routines. Cooking and take-out replaced dining out. Walking or running replaced going to the gym. We spent hours each day watching TV or tethered to our phones or tablets. And the combination of stress and boredom prompted many to reach for alcohol and other coping mechanisms.
If we’ve formed new habits, which should we keep, and which should we kick? And how should we go about breaking new bad habits?
Primary care sports medicine physician Rehal Bhojani, MD, offers advice for getting back on track. Affiliated with Memorial Hermann IRONMAN Sports Medicine Institute, Dr. Bhojani is the fellowship director of the Primary Care Sports Medicine program at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth in Houston, where he also serves as an assistant professor.
Keep a Schedule
Dr. Bhojani says that maintaining some sort of structure is key to staying mentally and physically healthy. “Create a schedule for your day. Even if you're working at home, schedule in the time you're working from home, schedule your exercise, schedule your trip to the grocery store. You might even schedule your meals and what you're going to eat. And keep a regular sleep schedule. Even if you have nothing to do in the morning, get up at the same time as you normally would. Building a routine is going to be your best bet for keeping those quarantine bad habits out of your life,” he says.
Regular exercise is essential to your physical and mental wellbeing, says Dr. Bhojani. “If you’re not active, get outside and walk. If you’re just starting out, start slow. If you can walk for 10 minutes, take one or two 10-minute walks a day, and slowly make your way up to 30-minute walks. Follow CDC guidelines for wearing a mask and for social distancing, if those measures are in place. Walk during the daytime when it's nice. Make sure you stretch and wear proper walking shoes. If you need to break it up into two walks, do two walks. Just get out and get moving,” he suggests.
When it comes to exercise, don’t let obstacles, including weather, get in your way. “You can do things inside, such as pushups, sit-ups and jumping jacks, even during commercials while you're watching TV. If you are older, or if you have arthritis in the knees, you can do what we call stand-ups and sit-downs, where you're actually getting up off the couch and sitting back down. You can walk around your apartment or your house. Just keeping moving,” he says.
Get Creative at Mealtime
Dr. Bhojani acknowledges that maintaining healthy eating habits during the pandemic has been difficult, as nutritious foods, including fresh fruits and vegetables, have been harder to come by. “Unfortunately, it’s been easier to get processed and packaged foods than it has been to get fruits and vegetables,” says Dr. Bhojani. “But choose healthier alternatives, including stomach fillers, such as lower-sodium nuts and trail mixes. Make protein shakes with frozen fruit and protein powders you can purchase online. You can even order fruits and vegetables online,” he says.
Dr. Bhojani acknowledges these are challenging times. “We don’t know what the future holds, but regardless, it’s important for all of us to try to maintain and improve our health. And we do that by creating healthy habits, like eating right, exercising, good sleeping habits and keeping a routine.”
The information in this article was accurate as of May 19, 2020.