Back to the Basics: Healthy Living During a Time of Crisis - Part 2
As these uncertain times progress, and it feels like the month of April is just draaaaagging, let’s continue the conversation about health and what you can choose. In Part 1, I discussed sleep and nutrition. Were you able to make any changes? Does it feel easier to focus on these staples of health?
Quarantine life is hard, y’all. I do not believe humans were meant to exist in isolation; I firmly believe we are social beings, and even with the benefits of modern technology, I still find myself feeling lonely at times. Connection and interaction are very much facets of one’s overall well-being.
Picture Source: SimplePsychology
However, even if we reference Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, belonging or a sense of community is still not as important as Physiological and Safety needs. So, let’s put our focus there. Let us all remain open-minded while we await the end of this pandemic and continue to allow this unsettled, slower routine to be an opportunity to return to the basics of a healthy, optimal lifestyle.
1. Let’s Talk Movement/Exercise
Ah, exercise. A dreaded term for some, and a word of joy for others. Yet, it’s vital to our health. According to an article published by the Mayo Clinic in 2019, “everyone benefits from exercise, regardless of age, sex or physical ability.”
I would agree. Additionally, the same article cited some of the benefits of exercise, like “weight control, management of chronic health conditions (i.e. Hypertension and Diabetes, as some examples), improves mood, boosts energy, promotes better sleep, and puts the spark back into your sex life”, and I’d add that it helps regulate your bowels preventing constipation.
The basic definition of exercise is a bodily activity that enhances or maintains physical fitness and overall health. So, exercise takes a wide variety of names:
High-Intensity Interval Training
Strength training or weight lifting
Recreational activities or team sports, like soccer, golfing, skiing, or tennis (to name a few)
Which of those listed above is your favorite, or one you would be willing to dedicate some time to?
I think many people complicate exercise by believing that they have to show up to some gym, get yelled at by a beefed-up, Vin-Diesel-type fitness instructor, and sweat until they vomit or pass out. This just isn’t the case! Ultimately, choose activities that best fit your schedule, your budget, your abilities, and your preferences.
Studies still recommend that, for most adults, you should aim to reach at least 150 minutes of moderate activity per week; that is an average of 20 minutes per day or 30 minutes five times a week. Let the record reflect, ladies, according to The Fifth Vital Sign, that should you experience delayed ovulation, missed periods, premenstrual spotting, and/or scant or light periods, after starting or modifying your activity level, “you need to consider backing off or making changes.”
Additionally, women reported exercising for weight loss and toning more than men, whereas men reported exercising for enjoyment more than women (Craft, Carrol, & Lustyk, 2014). Ladies, mindset shift! We need to be okay in the bodies we have rather than using movement and exercise as a form of punishment hoping it will change or improve us.
The thing is, movement can be fun! You can make it into a form of play! Examples: dance party in the living room, making a new playlist then exploring a new trail, run like Phoebe from Friends (yea, I’ve done it!), chase your child around the playground, do body-weight squats and jumping jacks during the commercial break of your favorite TV show, etc. Making exercise into play isn’t unproductive; in fact, according to Bowen White, MD, “Play brings joy. And it’s vital for problem solving, creativity and relationships.” How can you challenge yourself to make some form of movement into play?
At the end of the day, especially as we continue to live in a quarantined lifestyle, let’s remember what Elle Woods said in Legally Blonde:
"Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don't shoot their husbands. They just don't.”
*HaHa, I couldn’t resist!*
2. Let’s Talk Stress Management
In each and every human exists the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis (aka HPA axis), and this hormonal process, when functioning properly, releases cortisol within a daily cycle; with cortisol levels steadily rising in the morning when we awake and lowering in the evenings when it is time to rest. It’s basically our internal caffeine boost!
Sadly, thanks to modern day perceived stressors, our bodies HPA axis’ are working on overdrive (i.e. low tire pressure = sabertooth tiger) (late due to traffic = sabertooth tiger) (unexpected midday call from the wife = sabertooth tiger) (kid’s school called...there is a lice outbreak again = sabertooth tiger) and especially now, with the current crisis (watching the news again = caged sabertooth tiger).
Ultimately, when the body is stressed, the adrenals begin pumping out a constant supply of cortisol all day long (like a hamster on the wheel who just can’t seem to stop). While this adrenal dysfunction can lead to a number of issues, two of the primary symptoms are fatigue and sleep problems (ranging from trouble falling asleep, inability to sleep through the night, and/or waking several times during the night).
Simple things like caffeine consumption, a poor diet and inadequate sleep can contribute to HPA axis dysfunction! So, it’s safe to say that all of these “basics” I’ve discussed are interconnected.
If you’re anything like me, even reading this is probably inducing some level of anxiety; maybe your palms are a little more sweaty than usual and your face feels flushed. Breathe: Inhale. Long exhale. Do it again. Breathe in...one, two, three; exhale....one, two, three, four, five.
When our routines are murky and your springtime plans aren’t what you intended, how can we all naturally lower our stress levels?
I’ll share some of my and my husband’s favorite ways:
Breathing exercises - I prefer Alternate Nostril Breathing or simply deep breathing with an extended exhale to quiet my central nervous system.
Meditation - Download apps like 10%Happier, Headspace, Calm or Aura. Find a quiet space and give yourself a minimum of five minutes. It’s revolutionary.
Exercise - go for a walk, jog, or do some yoga.
Allow yourself to day-dream or let your mind wander.
Listen to music.
Get into nature #optoutside - even if it’s just into your backyard or onto your front porch at present...let the sunshine soak into your body. Take a few minutes to observe your usual surroundings and listen for the wind, birds, etc.
Body scan - similar to meditation, but instead of listening and trying to keep your mind empty, you sit or lie down, and focus on relaxing your muscles. Start at your toes and work your way up, and allow yourself to notice how your body feels.
Turn off or set electronics, especially tablets and phones, to airplane mode at a certain time every evening and don’t pick it up again until the morning.
Repetitive prayer - the Serenity Prayer has been my go-to lately.
If you’re a regimented type, schedule into your routine “feel good things” at the same time every day to give yourself something to look forward to (i.e. pour yourself a cup of tea or iced coffee at 2pm, evening walk after dinner, or five minutes of stretching before each Zoom meeting).
"The fear of collapsing could become the actual collapse. We need to create a new normal while grieving the end of our old normal." - Brené Brown
Don’t get sucked into all the negativity. Even after six weeks of social distancing and isolated living, I can confidently say that I’m still adjusting. I keep telling myself that this "season" is temporary, and the things I miss will be available again; for now, focus on what you can control: sleep, nutrition, daily exercise and stress management.
As I said in Part 1, none of us chose these circumstances, but that doesn’t mean you can’t choose a healthier lifestyle.
Wishing you safety, health and wellness as we all continue to navigate these trying times. And as always, may you continue to blossom in new ways!