Small Ideas for Strange Times
Updated: Apr 3, 2020
Small Idea #2: Love your body (and it will love you back)
I’m going to start out by saying something pretty obvious, but I’m going to say it anyway because my spidey-sense tells me there’s a lot of couch-sitting, snack-eating, and late-night channel-surfing going on.
Covid-19 is coming after your body
The same body you haven’t necessarily been taking great care of over the past couple of weeks. The same body you haven’t been exercising or nourishing or resting. And this is a problem because these three things: exercise, nutrition, and rest, play critical roles in the health of your body's immune system. The same immune system that’s going to go to war on your behalf if you happen to come into contact with this nasty virus. And the body that’s going to do its best to breathe and fight fever and stave off hospitalization in the event you get sick. So let’s give some thought to how we can all love our bodies, even in small ways, especially now.
I’ve connected with my friend Amy Hoogervorst, a certified health coach, who graciously provided some really helpful information on this topic, so be sure to click on the links that will take you to her resources.
I’ve had sleep issues forever and they’ve only gotten worse with age, so this is an ongoing struggle for me. Toss some pandemic-related anxiety into the mix and it’s a miracle I’ve been getting any sleep at all in recent days. Except that I have been. And for this I credit my sleep routine – something that’s been in place for a very long time and matters now more than ever. I’m not going to tell you what your sleep routine should look like, because I think it’s something we need to figure out for ourselves, but I am going to mention some things that come up frequently in the literature about getting a good night’s sleep:
Be aware of your caffeine intake during the day. Limit caffeinated drinks and cut off all caffeine by mid-afternoon.
Put your digital devices to bed after supper. Endless scrolling and jumping back and forth from one app to another in the hours before bedtime stimulates our brains in a way that’s antithetical to sleep. If it’s important to remain reachable by phone or text, keep your device on but out of easy reach. And turn off most notifications so you don't get caught up in every single attempt to grab your attention.
No screens in the bedroom. Bedrooms are for sleeping (and sex). That’s it. Introduce entertainment into your bedroom and your brain will never get the message that we go into that room to snuggle and sleep. Subsequently, your brain won’t know to turn off.
Develop a sleep ritual. Making a habit of doing certain things before actually getting into bed prepares your brain and your body for sleep. Start getting ready for bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning. Have a bath. Eat a light snack. Read something soothing. Pray.
Whether you exercise regularly but have gotten out of the groove because your gym is closed or exercise is something you routinely avoid, it’s time to get in the game. It might take some creativity and effort, but the long and short of it is exercise has never been more important than it is right now. Exercise is the antidote to so much of what we’re experiencing these days: sleep problems, heightened anxiety, erratic emotions, out of control eating, increased alcohol consumption, and so on. Exercise is like a heat source that burns through mental, physical, and emotional unrest and brings us back to something close to calm. And calm is exactly what our immune systems need.
We need to move our bodies, stretch our bodies, strengthen our bodies. And we can do it all in very little space and surprisingly little time. For the past several months I’ve been doing a brief, uncomplicated workout every morning: 3 minutes of cardio, 2 minutes of strength, 1 minute of core – repeated three times without a break. I change up what I do every time. As long as I’m doing cardio, strength, and core I can do whatever I want. I do this in a very small space with limited equipment (timer, mat, weights, bands) and the whole thing, with some warm-up at the beginning and stretching at the end, takes under 30 minutes. If there’s something interesting on TV I watch while I move – I believe this is referred to as “bundling”. Otherwise I listen to music. Later in the day I might do some yoga or go for a walk.
There are scores of workouts available to stream, many developed specifically for our current circumstances in that they can be done indoors with limited equipment and in limited time. And there’s always the great outdoors: in most places people are still able to run, walk, or cycle as long as social distancing is respected. Get outside with the kids and play. Say hello to Springtime. Or stay indoors and dance. Yeah, that’s right. Crank up the tunes and move your body.
My point is this: If Covid-19 has forced you to abandon your regular exercise routine or given you one more excuse not to start, please consider thinking about it differently. Like it or hate it, exercise, along with sleep and good nutrition, is one of our best defenses against anxiety, depression, and a weakened immune system. So right now this isn’t about fitness goals or rock-hard abs or training for a Spartan. This is about health. It’s about investing in the body that wants nothing more than to stay healthy for you.
My sense is there’s a lot of eating going on out there that has nothing to do with hunger or health. Lots of sugary or salty snacks being consumed in the name of boredom or anxiety or convenience. I get it. I’m an emotional eater from way back. But if you’ve read up until now you’re probably sensing what I’m going to say next: What we eat can deplete or strengthen our immune systems. It can calm our nerves or rattle them. It can help us to sleep better or keep us wide awake at 2:00 AM. It can help to regulate critical systems in our body or send them over the edge. This isn’t Christmas or the Super Bowl, when taking a vacation from healthy eating is temporary and excusable. This is a global crisis. And what kind of crisis is it? It’s a HEALTH CRISIS. So it seems to me this is the perfect time to include what we eat in our overall plan for staying healthy.
It’s no secret that certain foods are healthier choices than others. Unfortunately, the foods that bring us comfort are often in the latter category, so it’s unlikely we’re going to use this time of confinement and uncertainty and boredom to undertake a complete revision of the way we eat. So my idea is to aim for progress not perfection. Make a plan to eat healthy most of the time and allow for the occasional snack, eaten at the time of day that’s particularly hard for you or as a motivation for taking care of a task you’ve been avoiding. Enjoy your treat. Savor it. Tell yourself you deserve it. Tell yourself you’ll have another treat at some point. And remain committed to your plan.
In addition to being more mindful of what you’re eating, it’s also important to pay attention to how much you’re eating. If you’re not sure how many calories you need to be consuming or what a portion looks like, download a tracking app or Google portion sizes. This kind of information is readily available, the trick is to use it. And if you’ve been telling yourself, For the love of Pete, this isn’t the time to start something new!!!, try telling yourself, This might just be the perfect time to start something new. I’m not eating out. I’m in total control of what’s available. I have the time to create a plan. My health depends on it.
How about you? What are your ideas with respect to sleep, exercise, and eating well? What's working for you? What's getting in your way? How can Amy or I help?