In this months blog, we encourage you to look for the opportunity in the current situation in terms of improving your Health and Fitness.
If you are at home with more time on your hands, maybe it’s best to look for the advantages in the situation. You now have more time to focus on your health and fitness. Some of the pitfalls of sitting at home are that you can get bored, anxious, depressed and gain weight through lack of activity and eating too much bad food. It is well documented that exercise can significantly help with all of these issues. You might find that you have the opportunity to achieve goals that you always told yourself that you would get around to ‘someday’, such as losing weight. But you may find that the weight loss is secondary to your mental wellbeing. That you are achieving much more than you bargained for with your new exercise habit.
Perhaps use Lockdown as the trigger to improve your physical and mental wellbeing! Instead of letting lockdown be a period of indulgence why not allow the enforced stillness give you the time and headspace to embrace a more active lifestyle. The pandemic reduced the barriers that many people have to leading healthier lifestyles – by giving them more time at home or dedicated time to exercise.
The fact the government made exercise one of the only exemptions from the Covid-19 restrictions during lockdown helped reinforce the notion that it was a priority, even during a pandemic. That’s quite strong public health messaging. In effect, the government was saying: ‘Look, this is worth leaving the house for; this is worth the risk.’” Exercise also became social: families traipsing out for walks together, friends meeting for a hike.
Maybe you could ask yourself; “what else am I doing? I might as well try to get fit”. Make one positive change each week. Or every few days. If you’ve been totally inactive, for example, maybe going for a 20 minute walk each day to begin with is a great start. Walking in nature is particularly good for your mental state. And I’m a big advocate of the benefits of strength training. Maybe talk to a professional fitness expert regarding a training (and nutrition) plan to start you on the right track. You don’t need a lot of time, space or even equipment to do a great routine. And the benefits are huge. Everyone can benefit, regardless of age or level. If you are out of condition, you would start with a routine that is appropriate to your level.
Or if your busy lifestyle meant that you were always getting take aways and eating ‘convenient food’ then you could eat more home cooked, natural foods now that you have the time. Nutrition is crucial to health and weight goals. Also, seek good advice here. And don’t just focus on weight. Remember, if you are overweight, you need to lose body fat. Not just weight. If, for example, you lose 5 lbs of body fat and replace it with 5 lbs of lean tissue, the scales will show no change. But you will know that you are progressing if you are losing inches in the right places, your clothes fit you better, you look better in the mirror, you have more energy etc. I call these the ‘real life tests’. Getting your body fat measured is also an excellent tracker.
I also believe in having clear goals. And write them down and track them. Be as specific and detailed as possible. Have a clear vision of how you want to look and feel having achieved your goal.
Maintaining Health is your best Defense
The pandemic is more dangerous for obese people and those with underlying health conditions, so, why not be the fittest that you can be. So that if you do get Covid, you give yourself the best shot possible for a good recovery. A recent study from University College London, which tracked 5,395 people, found that over-65s were among the most active of all the groups surveyed throughout lockdown and increased their physical activity levels the most once the lockdown restrictions were eased. It was also the only age group to become more active during the pandemic than beforehand. Prompted largely by the British prime minister’s spell in intensive care – Johnson believes he was hospitalised with the virus due to his weight – the government announced an anti-obesity strategy.
It is easier to form better habits if your lifestyle has been upended. Covid disrupted all of our routines, and we can use this to our advantage. When you have to create a new routine, your old habits are disrupted and you’re more in charge of how you shape your own life. That will play a role in why people may be embracing healthier behaviours. Covid-19 acted as a jolt for many. Suddenly, going on as normal isn’t an option. Before, many people were working long hours, chasing the almighty Euro, to the detriment of their health in many cases. This interruption has given these people the opportunity to look at their lifestyle and make improvements as appropriate. Suddenly, everything changed and people got a new mindset. When so much is out of your hands, exercise is something you can control. There’s something about the sense of autonomy you get from exercise. You’re doing it for your own reasons, rather than because someone told you to.
Exercise can give you a sense of drive and purpose. Exercise can enable you to focus on a series of goals that you can achieve. For many people, upping their exercise helped them deal with the stress and anxiety of living through a pandemic. You need to do something productive with your day. If you were working long hours and thinking, “I should be healthier, but I don’t have the time” and gradually ignored it and got more and more unfit, well now is the time to correct this. Studies have shown that working longer hours is bad for your mental and physical health, contributing to physical inactivity and an increased risk of depression. Now during Covid-19, take advantage of this downtime.
If you feel your mental health deteriorating, turn to exercise. The right exercise regime for you can give you the resilience to get through the pandemic. It releases all these lovely chemicals, ‘feel good’ hormones. It’s literally addictive. It can do wonders for your mental health
Will these habits stick when people return to their old lifestyles? They can do, yes, because you will have formed the habit. The best way to make anything stick is to build it into your everyday routine. Research shows that if you do something for 30 days, it becomes a habit. It is much easier to do something over the long term if it becomes a habit. Habits occur when you’ve already done the decision-making, so the ‘cue’ to act becomes an automatic part of your day.
‘Buddy up’ with someone that is also doing something similar so that you can communicate your goals and hold each other accountable.
I recommend that people embark on diet or fitness changes with friends, for motivation and accountability. Social support is key. Finding someone to do the activity with, in person or virtually, or even just showing interest and encouraging you to keep going, is helpful.
Covid is worse if you’re overweight. However, health anxiety is not in itself enough to sustain a long-term change: it is easy to become complacent once the initial alarm has worn off. The public will hear the message that Covid is more dangerous for the obese and it will get them out of the door a few times. But unless they find something they enjoy doing, it will be a short-term fix.
The most successful way to make fitness a habit is to make it fun. We are only able to make ourselves do something for a short amount of time. It’s hard to stick at something you find unpleasant, plus you don’t get the benefits in terms of the sense of wellbeing when you’re doing something you don’t like. So, if lockdown was a time of experimentation with various activities, pick the one you enjoyed.
I’m confident that you won’t slip back into your old ways. When you see such a huge change in your life, you’re not going to go back to how things were before. It’s transformational! Covid can give us the opportunity to focus on the things that were undermining our physical and mental health.
Stay safe and come out the other side of this in better physical and mental health.
Talk to your doctor before beginning an exercise programme, especially if you have any medical conditions