Staying Healthy during Covid-19

Jun 27, 2020

The coronavirus has certainly done a number on all of our lives. Many of us suddenly find ourselves working remotely and staying at home with our families all day. Even under normal circumstances, it’s not easy to create and maintain healthy habits, but now the situation is even more challenging as our choices with regards to exercise and nutrition suddenly seem very limited.

However, things aren’t as bleak as they seem if we adapt and maintain a positive attitude. Here are a few things I have learned in the process:

 

Going Virtual

While many of the places we used to visit, e.g. gyms, yoga, and martial arts studio, were forced to close and are no longer available, online and virtual alternatives have popped up pretty quickly as companies extended or pivoted their business models to adapt and stay in business.

Yes, virtual classes aren’t quite the same and require some getting used to, but they also have advantages: Unless you attend a class that’s live-streamed, you can take virtual classes whenever you want, there’s no time wasted driving to a location, it’s easier to mix it up and try different workouts, and … nobody is watching (and judging) you!

 

There’s an App for that

There are plenty of apps and web sites available that offer virtual classes. I prefer to use my iPad due to its size, but others may rather use their phones or even stream to their big-screen TV.

Here are a few of the apps I started experimenting with:

  • DownDog (yoga, HIIT, etc.): The folks from DownDog were nice enough to make their services free for the first few weeks and so I tried their yoga and HIIT (high-intensity interval training) apps. What’s cool is that you can custom-configure your whole workout in great detail and the class is “generated” based on length, emphasis, skill level, etc. That said, it doesn’t quite “flow” the same way an actual class flows, but the “configurability” is certainly an advantage. (They also have a beginners’ app that provides an intro to yoga.)
  • Peleton (strength, yoga, and more): Yup those guys, and no, I don’t own their bike! They had a generous free period (3 months) when you can take as many of their classes as you like. (They may have since reduced the trial period.) The classes range from yoga, cardio, strength to stretching and running and don’t require the bike or any other hardware. They have good instructors, add new classes all the time, and the app lets you find exactly what you’re looking for. I personally don’t like the ”feel” of the studio with very dark background, but they’ve started offering “at home” classes from their trainers’ homes as well. Even after the trial period, the pricing is quite reasonable.
  • CorePower Yoga (yoga but also other variations): In reaction to the virus, the CorePower folks have added different kinds of virtual options, some of which are free. While their library is not as extensive (yet), their classes have more of a “group feel” and I like the more natural lighting and atmosphere of a yoga studio.
  • Nike Training Club: I haven’t fully explored this app yet, but it’s next on my list. It looks like they have plenty of options as well. However, this app appears to be limited to the phone.

There are plenty more options, so these are just a few to try out.

Quick tip: Find an app, program, and instructor you like and stick with them for a while. That way, you get used to their pace, flow, and style.

On a side note: I thought I might miss the live instruction I used to receive at my local yoga studio and maybe participating in other virtual workouts I wasn’t used to would be hard. It turned out that the transition to virtual classes was not bad at all. Once I got over the fact that I wasn’t at a studio, following the online instructions was actually quite similar. (I didn’t miss the temperatures in the 80’s or 90’s from the studio, however.) For workouts I wasn’t as familiar with, it was easier than expected to get into them.

So the bottom line is: Don’t be intimidated, but give it a shot and stay with it for a while!

 

A Different Kind of Home Gym

Research has shown that reducing choices and “friction” in a process makes it easier for us to follow habits and routines. So I decided that instead of setting up a workout area from scratch every time, part of our living room was now dedicated to exercising and I left all the gear there, ready for the next workout.

The setup includes:

  • 3 yoga mats (I already had two and scored one more online), so we could even work out as a family
  • a stand for my iPad
  • a Bluetooth speaker to boost my iPad’s audio
  • weights (I use 5, 8, 10, and 12 lbs; your needs may vary. I got most of mine at Target)
  • yoga blocks

As the summer progressed and temperatures rose, I added a fan as well.

Quick tip: See if you can set up and configure a dedicated workout-from-home area with the props you have and leave it set up and ready to go.

 

It’s a New World

A few more patterns emerged for me while settling into new routines:

  • Instead of the regular 45 or 60 minute in-person classes that I was used to, I found myself enjoying shorter intervals, e.g. 30 mins, quite a bit.
  • I played with ways to combine two short workouts and do, for example, a strength class followed by a yoga class.
  • With the flexibility of no set class times, I had the freedom to experiment with what works best with my own daily rhythm and routine. As it turns out, my sweet spot was the transition from working from home to personal time: Adding a workout right in between would help me re-energize but also signal the beginning of the non-work part of the day.
  • Occasionally my wife and son would join me for my workouts and we ended up working out together, which was a nice way to get some exercise as a family.
  • Historically, walking has never been a real form of exercise for me. (Yes, many will disagree with me here. But when I don’t get my heart racing and a good sweat going, I don’t feel I’m getting a “real” workout.) That said, I started enjoying walks around the neighborhood to at least get moving and out of the house. 
  • I started experimenting with listening to podcasts and walking meditations curtesy of Headspace. Let’s not forget that this time is stressful on our minds as well and therefore attention on our mental health is as much needed as on our physical health.
  • Instead of a single, longer workout session once a day, I started appreciating the benefits of multiple shorter workouts throughout the day, such as a walk during lunch and a strength session after work. Research suggests that this approach to exercise may actually better for you and yield sustained physical benefits. At a minimum, it’s less of a time commitment and allows for more flexibility.

Quick tip: Get creative. Try something new and see if you like it. This is a great time to experiment instating of hanging on to outdated routines.

 

Nutrition and Diet

Let’s talk about food and nutrition for a second too: With everyone being home, close to the refrigerator or pantry, and likely not moving as much during the day, it’s easy to graze, keep snacking throughout the day, and consume too many calories.

Here are some things you can do to keep our diet and nutrition under control:

  • Keep only nutritious foods and snacks in the house. If you don’t have it, you can’t eat it. For between-meals bites, stick with nuts, fruits, and other low-calorie varieties.
  • Watch your portion sizes and eating frequencies. Keep a log or use a calorie tracker if it helps you.
  • Yes, it may not be fun, but weigh yourself on a regular basis, so you know if your weight starts creeping up.
  • The obvious: get enough and regular exercise, either individually or as a family. You need to keep burning calories.
  • Cook or BBQ at home instead of eating restaurant foods (pick-up or delivery) too often. This makes it easier to control ingredients and portion sizes.
  • It’s tempting, especially during stressful times, but don’t go crazy on the alcohol. Not only can too much and frequent drinking affect your health negatively, many alcoholic beverages also contain plenty of calories.
  • If it helps you, plan your meals ahead and order/purchase the necessary ingredients for the next week or two. Then stick to your plan.

Quick tip: Try snacks that are prepackaged in small portions, such as bags of (unsalted) nuts, hummus, etc. and use one package for your mid-morning and mid-afternoon snacks. This will prevent you from overindulging.

 

Lots has changed and will continue to change until we eventually reach what will be our actual “new normal”. It looks like this will take longer than many of us expected and that the world after will be different from where we started.

Even during these challenging and unsettling times, it’s important, and maybe even more important than ever, that we take care of our bodies and minds. We need to stay healthy. With the virus still circulating, it’s vital to boost our health and immune system. Hopefully, we’ve worked hard to build good habits before the Covid-19 virus. So let’s not slack off now, slide back, and put on the “quarantine 15” (lbs).

This is the time to make adjustments, try different things, and settle into new habits that allow us to stay fit, healthy, and energized.

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