“Your grandparents were called to war. You’re being asked to sit on your couch.”
This line is showing up in memes and social media everywhere, encouraging everyone to do their part in flattening the curve of COVID-19 through social distancing.
The reasoning behind social distancing is hard to argue. When people aren’t in close proximity, they can’t spread the virus (and remember, you can have coronavirus and be asymptomatic).
You’re not being asked to do much (well, you’re actually being asked to do nothing). However, your role in using social distancing to stop the spread of coronavirus is a critical one.
“The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to this virus.”
— Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Still, social distancing can feel like a big ask. For the time being, you can’t head to the gym and your normal routine will be thrown a little off-kilter. But that doesn’t mean you have an excuse to put your health on the back burner altogether.
In fact, your health is more important now than ever. A healthy body means a stronger immune system — something you want to make sure you’re supporting the best you can, especially right now.
This doesn’t mean you should go out and buy a bunch of supplements that promise an immune system boost (in fact, let’s avoid the hoarding, please). Now is the time to stick with proven, simple ways to stay healthy while you do your part to beat coronavirus through social distancing. Here’s how.
1. Get creative with your exercise routine.
To all the gym rats out there — don’t panic. Staying home doesn’t mean you can’t get your swole on. In fact, you might actually stumble upon new ways to exercise at home, which you can use on future vacations or a snowy day when you just don’t feel like braving the weather.
Not only will exercise keep your mental health in check and break up your day, but it can also keep you from getting sick. For instance, it can flush bacteria out of your lungs and airways, and it can slow down the release of stress hormones (which can increase your chance of illness).
Quarantine-friendly exercise tips include:
- Search the internet for equipment-free (and actually free) exercise videos, including bodyweight exercises, yoga classes, or even good old 8-minute abs (try Youtube or Fitness Blender to start).
- Find out if your current gym is offering any on-demand or streaming classes while they’re closed.
- Stick to the tried-and-true exercises: push-ups, crunches, and air squats. They require zero equipment — and they’re effective.
- Turn other things into gym equipment by running the stairs, using a table for arm dips, or using a roommate for bench press (please ask for permission, first!).
- Invest in a few inexpensive workout accessories, such as free weights, a resistance band, or a yoga mat.
If you live near a low-traffic running path and are feeling healthy, go for a jog outside. However, it’s critical that you maintain your distance from any fellow runners and don’t touch anything (including your face) during your run.
If your community receives a “shelter in place” order, that means you can only go outside for essential activities. Check the issued rules and regulations to see if exercise is considered “essential.”
2. Don’t let social distancing ruin your diet.
Okay, this is a hard one. Everyone told you to prepare for social distancing by purchasing 2 weeks of food — but no one told you how hard it was going to be not to eat it all right away.
First, remember that the purpose of stocking up on food staples is to be prepared. If you eat it all in the first few days, well, you’re obviously not going to have any for later.
Just as important, though, is to make sure you’re still eating healthy. For a healthy immune system, it’s not only critical to eat the right amount of food — but also the right nutrients.
To start, make sure you don’t overeat. Consider planning your meals for the next few days rather than ending up in the typical scenario of “I’ll stand in front of the fridge for 10 minutes then eat everything in sight.” Write it down somewhere if you don’t think you’ll stick to it.
And seriously, don’t put a bag of chips next to you while you work at your computer — that’s just asking for trouble.
Also, avoid eating when you’re bored. Stick to your typical meal and snack routine whenever possible (look at your meal plans!). Try asking yourself before you eat if you’re actually hungry — and be honest!
Finally, make sure to incorporate nutrients that boost your immune system. People who are deficient in nutrients are more susceptible to infections (like coronavirus) — and these infections tend to be more severe. Seek out foods with nutrients, such as:
- Vitamin C (oranges, berries, broccoli, sweet potatoes)
- Vitamin D (egg yolks, milk)
- Vitamin B6 (tuna, bananas, nuts)
- Vitamin B12 (chicken, eggs, some fortified cereals)
- Folate (spinach, avocado, spaghetti)
- Zinc (baked beans, pumpkin seeds, yogurt)
- Iron (beef, kale, whole wheat bread, strawberries)
3. (Finally) get some sleep.
I’m about to give you some advice, but you need to listen to the whole thing. You have a lot of extra time on your hands, and now is a great time to reset your sleeping habits to make sure you’re getting enough.
However, do not — I repeat — do not use this time to sleep until noon and take naps all day. Not only is that unproductive, but it’s also not healthy.
If you find yourself sleeping more than 11 hours a night, you’ll increase your chances of diabetes, obesity, headaches, back pain, and heart disease. Plus, it can throw off your circadian rhythm, which can weaken your immune system — which you obviously don’t want right now (or ever).
On the flip side, getting the right amount of sleep — about 7 to 8 hours — can keep your immune system nice and strong. Without enough sleep, your body makes fewer proteins called cytokines, which target infection and inflammation (aka your immune response).
These important proteins are both made and released as you get some shut-eye, so a lack of sleep is really not in your immune system’s interest.
Use this extra time to reset your schedule to ensure you’re getting enough sleep. And if you find that you can’t sleep for 8 hours straight, take a few scheduled naps (no more than two and no longer than 30 minutes each).
4. Cut yourself a little slack.
That all being said — this can be a stressful and scary time. It’s not a time to throw away your diet and exercise habits, but if you want a treat here or there, or need to take a night off to veg on the couch, go for it. Just don’t make treats into a habit (or they won’t really be treats anymore, will they?).
Protect Your Body — So It Can Protect You When You Need It Most
You aren’t being asked to do much right now other than to stay home and avoid spreading coronavirus. You have the time — and you may need the immune system strength — so now is a perfect time to practice some self-care.
This is undoubtedly a challenging time for many people. However, it’s critical to do your part to keep everyone healthy — including yourself.