COVID restrictions and lock-downs have led to a variety of health challenges for people in our community. Among many things, this period has led to weight gain, mental health challenges, lethargy and loss of muscle mass and function.
The negative health effects of COVID restrictions can be overcome with the right strategies and support. It is vital to maintain your health and boost your immune system during this period.
Here are the Top 5 Health Tips to maintain your health during COVID 19 restrictions;
1. Limit YOUR Media Exposure (Inc. Social Media)
Constant media exposure to negativity associated with COVID 19 news has a negative impact on your physical and emotional wellbeing.
Continual dosage to this negativity through both social media and traditional media formats stimulates your sympathetic nervous system (SNS) in the same way as a ‘stress response’. This stress response upregulates your S.N.S which in turn can accelerate your heart rate, raise blood pressure, constrict blood vessels, decrease motility (movement) of the large intestines and disrupt absorption of nutrients in your gut.
The physical responses caused by stress and the upregulation of your SNS over a long period can have a negative effect on all systems throughout your body, increasing your risk factors for many serious health challenges and chronic diseases.
Amongst many things, this can lead to insomnia, a weakened immune system, elevated blood sugar levels, fertility problems, higher risk of heart attack and stroke, headaches etc etc.
Exposure to negative media and social media can also have a negative impact on your mental / emotional wellbeing. Research highlights a greater risk factor for depression and anxiety with this media exposure.
Whilst social media can be a great way of maintaining contact and avoiding isolation during COVID; it is important to check in on how it is making you feel. Social media has shown to provide a platform for trigging much uncertainty and a wide array of political arguments.
Limiting your exposure to all forms of media during COVID is a great way to avoid triggering a stress response in your body which can increase your feelings of anxiety and depression associated with high dosages of negativity.
Stay informed but not overwhelmed!
2. Increase Physical Activity and Exercise
- Aerobic Exercise
Aerobic or Cardiovascular exercise is associated with activities such as walking, running, swimming, and cycling.
Increasing your aerobic exercise during COVID has benefits for both your physical and mental health. Physically you reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke, supports weight reduction (body fat) and improves the quality and duration of your sleep.
Aerobic exercise benefits your mental health with research showing a positive link in the reduction of stress, anxiety, and depression. Aerobic exercise has shown to stimulate the production of dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin in your brain that improve your mood state. These are important brain chemicals produced during aerobic exercise which boost your mood and overall sense of wellbeing.
Recommended Aerobic Training Amount:
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends you undertake 30 minutes of moderate to high intensity aerobic exercise daily.
- Strength Training
Regular strength training is vital to increase your strength, build muscle mass, maintain function for daily living and to boost your metabolic rate (important for supporting fat loss).
A correctly designed strength training program can improve your mobility, enhance core and pelvic stability and repair postural dysfunctions associated with long periods of sitting.
Sarcopenia is the loss of lean muscle tissue associated with ageing and inactivity. After age 50, the average loss of muscle each year is estimated to be 1-2%. After the age of 60 years, this muscle loss average is increased to 3% per year.
It is estimated that without the appropriate strength training interventions; an 80-year-old will have lost close to 50-60% of their entire muscle mass. This muscle loss is disastrous to the overall health and wellbeing of an individual; including to the loss of their ability to function and move.
During COVID, many people have been more sedentary and have had restricted access to a gym or exercise physiology clinic to access weight training. Regular exercise must incorporate strength training and can include body weight strength exercises during COVID; so, you can continue to build strength, function, and reduce your risk of many chronic diseases.
Recommended Strength Training Amount:
It is recommended you undertake strength training 3 times per week to increase your strength, boost your metabolism and build your lean muscle mass.
3. Boost Your Vitamin D with Time Outdoors
You could be putting yourself at risk of many health conditions should your levels of Vitamin D be low.
Vitamin D plays a vital role in your overall health and wellbeing – and in the prevention of many chronic diseases and cancers.
Deficiency and insufficiency of this ‘sunshine’ vitamin is a global public health issue. It is estimated nearly 1 billion people globally are affected with vitamin D deficiency.
The primary source of vitamin D is sunshine. When your body is exposed to a sufficient level of sunshine, a chemical reaction is stimulated which produces vitamin D. The recommended exposure to the sun daily is 15 minutes (with little clothing) and away from the hottest time in the middle of the day.
During COVID restrictions our population is spending significantly more time indoors and away from direct sunlight. This is leaving you more exposed to the negative health consequences of low Vitamin D levels. These include:
- Poor bone health
- Type 2 Diabetes
- Heart Disease
- Dementia and Alzheimer
It is vital that you spend time daily outdoors with your skin exposed to the sun to stimulate the chemical reaction which produces Vitamin D in your body.
In addition, vitamin D is also found in foods like egg yolk, fortified dairy products (including milk, cheese) and grains, some fish, fish liver oils and supplements.
4. Engage in Mindfulness Practice
Mindfulness practice encompasses several strategies to reduce stress, calm your mind and feel more centred. Research supports the role of Mindfulness practices for enhancing both your mental and physical health.
During the uncertainty and stress of COVID19, boosting your mental and emotional wellbeing through mindfulness practices is extremely valuable. Mindfulness has shown to have a positive impact on improving your mood and in reducing anxiety and depression. Mindfulness practice has shown to increase your sense of optimism, increase happiness, reduce stress, and support your coping mechanisms during adverse events (i.e. right now!).
Mindfulness practices also have positive physical health benefits via the effects on the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) and the endocrine system. With Mindfulness you upregulate your PNS which negates the physical impacts of long-term emotional stress (i.e. lower blood pressure and heart rate). Your endocrine system is positively affected by lowering the hormones of stress, namely high cortisol levels.
There are several ways you can implement mindfulness strategies into your weekly routine. Here are a few popular and evidence-based practices:
- Deep breathing exercises
- Movement meditation (yoga, t’ai chi etc)
- Progressive relaxation exercises
- Relaxation Music
It is important that you give yourself at least 30 days of implementing one of these new skills If you are not familiar with them. Like many skills, you cannot gain the full benefits of a practice in your early attempts. Stay consistent with your practice and continue to develop your skills around quieting your mind and centring your breathing.
5. Good Nutrition
Optimal nutrition is the cornerstone to your good health. Food provides the necessary nutrients for many physiological and molecular activity in your body. Good nutrition is one of the most important factors influencing your immune system, energy, growth, and repair. Good nutrition is a major influence on inflammation and gut health.
Good nutrition requires you to have an adequate amount of each of the macronutrients (protein, fat, and carbohydrate) and all the micronutrients (minerals and vitamins).
The typical western diet consists of too much carbohydrate (i.e. bread, pasta, and sugar). Our food sources are typically lacking in many micronutrients also due to over- farming of our soil (leading to mineral depletion), pesticides and herbicide usage (killing good bacteria in the soil) and long storage times (leading to vitamin depletion in food). Supplementation of minerals and vitamins must be considered to ensure you have adequate micronutrients on your diet.
- Reduce Processed Carbohydrates
Processed carbohydrates are prevalent in the typical western diet and are wreaking havoc on your health and increasing your risk for many chronic diseases including type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. These come in the form of bread, pasta, cereal and sugar and are found in many pre-packaged food sources.
These types of carbohydrates are broken down rapidly in your stomach and result in a rapid rise in your blood sugar levels. Over time this leads to insulin resistance, diabetes, and many inflammatory diseases.
When blood sugar rises quickly post consumption of processed carbohydrates; the body acts to release insulin and draws the energy back into your cells – in the form of stored body fat. As such, consumption of processed carbohydrates increases fat storage.
- Reduce Stimulants
Stimulants in your diet might include caffeine and sugar. These are found in many food sources including coffee, sugary soft drinks, muesli bars, biscuits, cakes, and many commercial ‘energy’ drinks (including ‘Red Bull’ and ‘Mother’).
Stimulants artificially stimulate your adrenal glands and create a reliance for energy. That is, your natural energy levels are disarmed by a reliance on these artificial stimulants. This often results in lowered energy levels and feels of lethargy and tiredness at both ends of the day.
These stimulants in your diet are proinflammatory. They promote systemic inflammation which can increase your risk of some chronic diseases and pain. Reducing stimulants in your diet is good practice for anyone suffering osteoarthritic or joint pain.
- Increase your Water Intake
Most Australians are chronically dehydrated due to the consumption of diuretics such as coffee, living indoors with heating and cooling; and because they do not consume adequate amounts of water.
Everyday you should consume around 2-3 litres of water. This intake can be in the form of herbal teas and straight water. It is always best practice to have a large water bottle (1 litre plus) with you. Place it on your desk or when you are driving in your car. DON’T rely on small glasses to achieve this water intake – you simply will not drink enough water this way.
Stay consistent with your higher water intake and check in for signs of dehydration. These can include low energy levels, hunger, poor concentration, and yellow urine!
Dehydration can lead to overeating and weight gain. Your brain confuses thirst for hunger and results in you eating more food rather than drinking water. Try a 30-day challenge of increasing you water intake to 3 litres (every day!) and take note of your energy levels and weight!
Surviving and thriving during COVID restrictions with your health requires a holistic approach to your health and fitness. These Top 5 tips reflect our holistic health approach as Accredited Exercise Physiologist – where all aspects of your health and wellbeing are considered important to ensure you flourish as a human.