Many people have spent more time than usual at home during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. You may be working at home, going out in public less often or unable to visit a gym. Because of the changes in your routine, you may be indulging in more junk food, exercising less, having trouble sleeping or feeling stressed out. These changes can affect your physical and mental health and even affect your immune system. Find out things you can do to improve your health during the COVID-19 pandemic.
If the COVID-19 pandemic has changed your routine or closed your gym, you may have found it challenging to exercise. You may also not be getting your usual daily activity — walking from a parking lot, taking the stairs at work, or biking or walking to work. But you can do many activities at home or outside.
For example, go outside for a brisk walk for 30 minutes most days of the week. You can break it up into several short walks a day. Bring your dog or your kids with you. In addition to being good for your body, a walk outside can expose you to nature, which might help you feel happier and reduce anxiety and depression. Just be sure to maintain social distance and stay about 6 feet (2 meters) away from everyone you pass.
If it's difficult for you to get outside, consider virtual classes. Check fitness apps, websites and local gyms for virtual offerings. This might be your chance to try yoga or Zumba in the comfort of your home.
Everyday activities, such as gardening, cleaning your house and playing with your kids, also can count as physical activity.
For most healthy adults, the Department of Health and Human Services recommends these exercise guidelines:
- Aerobic activity. Get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week, or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity. The guidelines suggest that you spread out this exercise during the course of a week. Greater amounts of exercise will provide even greater health benefits. But even small amounts of physical activity are helpful. Being active for short periods of time throughout the day can add up to provide health benefits. At home, you can do aerobics, climb stairs, dance or jump rope.
- Strength training. Do strength training exercises for all major muscle groups at least two times a week. Aim to do a single set of each exercise, using a weight or resistance level heavy enough to tire your muscles after about 12 to 15 repetitions. You can use dumbbells, soup cans, resistance bands or even your own body weight.
Physical activity can reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke, infections, death from many causes, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, obesity, metabolic syndrome and many types of cancer. It can also strengthen your heart to pump blood more efficiently and increase your muscle strength and endurance.
Getting moving can also help you lose weight or maintain a healthy weight, reduce stress, anxiety and depression, and help you sleep better.
Being at home more often due to the pandemic might cause you to spend more time on your couch. But sitting too much carries health risks. Avoid spending too much time sitting around watching television or looking at your smartphone in the evenings. If you're working at home, take regular breaks during the day. Aim to get up and move every hour. Stand while you're on conference calls, take a walk around the neighborhood during your lunch break, or set reminders to get up and stretch for a few minutes several times during the day.
Avoiding sitting too much can reduce your risk of lower back pain, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, obesity, heart disease, some cancers and high cholesterol.
Spending more time at home means constant access to a kitchen full of food. You may be tempted by the cookies in your pantry during your afternoon break. Or anxiety may have you craving chocolate.
It's OK to have your favorite treats sometimes — such as ice cream on a hot day. Just try not to make a habit of eating lots of foods with added sugars. If you do have sweets, keep your portions small, and use a small dish rather than eating from a bag or container. And keep the less healthy foods in a hard-to-reach place — in high cupboards, in the freezer or out of the house. Take a trip to go get an ice cream cone rather than keeping a tub of ice cream in your freezer.
When choosing how to eat right, aim to choose healthy snacks, such as an apple, a few carrots, popcorn or yogurt. Keep healthy snacks on the counter or at eye level in the fridge or pantry. Making these healthy foods convenient will increase the chances that you or your family will choose them over other foods.
In general, aim to eat a healthy diet each day, including:
- A variety of fruits and vegetables
- Whole grains, such as whole-grain bread or pasta, brown rice, or oatmeal
- Low-fat dairy products, such as low-fat milk, cheese or yogurt
- Low-fat protein, such as chicken, fish, eggs or legumes
- Oils, such as olive oil
Limit how much saturated and trans fat you eat, such as butter. Also, avoid having too much sodium in your diet — generally no more than 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium a day (about a teaspoon of salt).
Eating a healthy diet can help reduce your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, some cancers and obesity. And it can help your immune system run better — which can help it fight disease.
The COVID-19 pandemic might also have affected your sleep. If you're working at home, you might not need to get up as early to get to work. Sleeping in can throw you off your normal sleep schedule. Or you might find that anxiety is keeping you up at night.
It's important to get enough sleep. Getting a good night's sleep can help improve your ability to focus, solve problems, and stay mentally and physically healthy. Most adults need seven to nine hours of sleep a night. Aim to have a regular bedtime and wake-up time every day. To get a better night's sleep, avoid caffeine, sugary or high-fat foods late in the day and alcohol before bed. Try to do something relaxing before you go to bed, such as taking a warm bath. Or try stretching or using relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and progressive relaxation. If you can't sleep, read or listen to music until you feel tired.
If you don't get enough sleep on most nights, your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke and obesity can be increased. It can also make it harder for your immune system to fight off viruses and infections.
Many people are feeling extra stress and anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some ways to reduce stress include trying deep breathing exercises, relaxation exercises, meditation or mindfulness. Some apps can help lead you through meditation or deep-breathing techniques. Eating a healthy diet, exercising and getting enough sleep can help, too. Call friends or family regularly.
Long-term stress can affect your health, causing headaches, problems sleeping, digestive issues, depression and anxiety.
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected many people's routines. But with some new strategies and creativity, you can still lead a healthy lifestyle. Taking care of yourself also might help you deal better with so much uncertainty and change.