The COVID-19 outbreak has brought with it added stress and uncertainty.
Among the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) recommendations for mental health support include taking care of your body. CDC officials say try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals, exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep, and avoid alcohol and drugs.
Unfortunately, staying home all day every day for many doesn’t lend itself to fitness and a healthy diet, and with the closure of fitness facilities and recreation centers, depending on the usual sources for a workout is not feasible. Equally challenging is the potential to find that your favorite healthy food options are out of stock at the grocery store or go-to eateries have had to close their doors.
Brittney Bearden, a registered dietitian and sports nutrition manager with Texas Health Sports Medicine, said taking care of yourself physically by exercising regularly, eating healthy and hydrating properly is a great way to combat stress and anxiety to support mental health.
Bearden said a healthy meal should include a protein, fiber-rich carbohydrate and vegetables. Although that may look a bit different these days depending on what’s available, look for healthy options in a variety of forms like canned or packaged items like beans, lentils, chickpeas, vegetables, fruit, tuna, salmon, soup and microwavable grains (rice, quinoa, etc.). And make sure to put your freezer to work. Bearden said to look for healthy frozen items like chicken breasts, fruit, vegetables with no added sauces, shelled edamame and skillet meals. You can even freeze fresh fruit and vegetables to extend the shelf life.
While sheltering in place, the tendency to snack out of sheer boredom can present another challenge, but Bearden said redirection is a better option – for your physical and mental health.
“Implement another activity in place of reaching for a snack such as drinking 12-16 ounces of water, stretching, go for a short walk, 10 push-ups or a mental exercise,” she said.
Another way to combat unnecessary munching is to stay on a consistent eating schedule by eating at regular meal times. Bearden said snacking between meals is OK if you’re actually hungry, but choose nutrient-rich snacks that include fruits and/or vegetables.
Texas Health athletic trainer Christopher Hall says it takes communication and setting some parameters in order to balance everything going on in the world. Just like nutrition, this means establishing a daily routine.
“That can include finding time to spend with your children (reading, playing a board game, taking a walk around your neighborhood) as well as letting your children know that Mom and Dad must also take care of their job responsibilities at some point in the daily routine,” he said.
Fortunately, exercise can come in a lot of ways, Hall said.
“For families with small children and pets, taking a walk around your neighborhood is a simple way to get outdoors and enjoy the surroundings,” he said. “For exercise, you can kick a soccer ball around in the yard or just dribble a basketball on the pavement.”
He noted to be sure to mind social distancing, so continue to be vigilant when out and about.
Like most activities typically done outside the home, workouts are going virtual, and Hall said for those who want to sweat off a little extra energy, there are plenty of online workouts available that incorporate household items to lift and use as exercise equipment. Several fitness providers are offering free classes, like Planet Fitness, which posts daily home workouts on YouTube.
“Most of these programs run 20 to 30 minutes and will at least give you the opportunity to raise your heart rate and to provide you with a little sweat as a reward for putting in the effort,” he said.
Hall said some of these programs are also geared toward younger children to help them burn off some energy from being confined in their homes. And, while kids are missing out on rec leagues and school PE, it’s important to keep them moving.
“Simple exercises can include pushups, pull-ups, sit-ups, jumping jacks and jogging in place,” Hall said. “Regardless of the space that you have around you, challenging your children and yourself is good for your heart and soul.”
Ultimately, Hall said. “keep an open mind and use your imagination,” and remember to practice sound hygiene; wash your hands often for a minimum of 20 seconds and practice safe social distancing.