It’s no secret that our lives have been inundated with anxiety, stress, and worry as we were asked to shelter-in-place and deal day-to-day with a pandemic. In fact, recent studies have found that the social distancing and “shelter-in-place” mandates are cultivating actual feelings of grief and mourning — for our family and friends, for our daily routines, for our lost work life, for the life we once had. With the added weight of cabin-fever, it’s more important than ever that we tend to our mental well-being, aiming to come out on the other side of this lockdown with all of our brains intact!
This is why staying physically active — even if it’s thirty minutes of low-impact yoga in your living room — is so crucial!
Physical activity of any kind — whether it’s a long walk or a full-on boxing match — is a key component of a healthy mental state, as well as a healthy body. Getting your blood flowing at least once a day can help mediate the dark, depressive feelings of loss, boost our overall mood, and invigorate a sense of purpose.
Yet, with the comfort of the couch or that reclining chair just mere steps away, how can we encourage ourselves to choose the less attractive option?
Here are a few tips for staying physically active during the lockdown!
Physical Activity Boosts Mental Health
It’s more than likely that you’ve experienced the endorphin rush, energy boost, and good vibes that come from getting your blood pumping, yet how much do you know about the science of what’s going on in your body?
There are actually a few factors at play when it comes to exercise and mental health.
Exercise, for example “aerobic exercises, including jogging, swimming, cycling, walking, gardening, and dancing, have been proved to reduce anxiety and depression” due to “exercise-induced increase in blood circulation to the brain and by an influence on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and, thus, on the physiologic reactivity to stress.”
Basically, lots of science talk to say that exercise increases blood circulation to your brain, which somehow (this is a bit more of a mysterious component of the relationship) has an impact on your hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. The HPA isn’t an organ, but it’s actually referring to the “interaction between the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and adrenal glands” and is directly involved in the “body’s reaction to stress,” and hence exercise (which is a form of stress on the body).
Yet, it’s not all about the science of exercise-induced bodily stress and improved mental health, much of the relationship has to do with the psychological effects of exercise.
For instance, many hypotheses that “the beneficial effects of physical activity on mental health include distraction, self-efficacy, and social interaction,” — either indirectly via at-home gym programs or directly through in-person classes. On top of that, it’s been found that exercise boosts mental health by “improving self-esteem and cognitive function,” as well as alleviates “symptoms such as low self-esteem and social withdrawal.”
All-in-all, moving your body is an essential part of keeping your mental state healthy, and this is especially true during uncertain and stressful times such as these!
How to Encourage Physical Fitness at Home
Everyone is telling you to get up and move while on quarantine, yet it’s much easier said than done. Without our normal influences and routines — specifically, getting the heck out of the house and away from our creature comforts — it’s much more difficult to avoid our leisure vices such as television, video games, computers, and phones.
With that said, there are tips and tricks to employ to help boost your interest in exercise. On top of that, it doesn’t have to be standard exercise. If you’re not one to lift weights, run, or practice Pilates, look for activities that inspire movement and engage the mind at the same time.
Ready to get motivated? Here are some ideas:
1. Implement a Routine that You Can Stick With
One of the best ways to incorporate regular exercise is to make time for it!
While in quarantine, even though you’re stuck at home, build a routine that’s manageable and takes into account the anxieties and stresses of the situation.
First and foremost, set exercise goals for yourself. Knowing what you want out of your movement time helps determine the type of movement, length of time, and if you need any equipment. Are you looking to boost muscle mass, improve breathing, work on flexibility, or get lean? Are you trying to reduce anxieties and stress? Maybe all you want to do is take up time, which you may have oodles of right now?
Next, structure how you start the day. Begin with an alarm to get you out of bed and a specific morning routine to wake your body. This is a great opportunity for those morning people to sneak in a bit of exercise! Jump on your indoor bike or treadmill first thing for 15 minutes. Take 10 minutes to stretch, breathe, or practice gentle yoga. The morning is also the perfect, quiet time to meditate.
Don’t forget that morning nutrient-boost either! Make sure to integrate healthy foods to energize you in the morning! Food plays an integral role in boosting the benefits of exercise, so allow these aspects of your routine to play in tandem.
For those that aren’t exactly the “morning types,” choose at least 30 minutes to an hour during the day — setting a re-occurring alarm is incredibly helpful — designated as “move time.”
Keep in mind that exercising in the evening can be a bit tricky! If you decide to incorporate a high-intensity workout after dinner, keep in mind that this will pump blood to the brain, boost energy, and get your heart working hard, which in the end can keep you up later at night. On the other hand, practicing some restorative or gentle yoga or maybe even meditation in the evening can promote better sleep!
Alright, you’ve got the schedule down, but you weren’t really an exerciser before quarantine, so how in the world do I actually exercise? Enlist virtual help!
There are a host of apps, online physical fitness programs, and gyms offering free or discounted streaming services that are perfect for beginners! Have a friend or two that’s also trying to get into the exercise groove? Set up virtual meet-ups to workout together! Platforms such as Facetime, Skype, Google Hangout, House Party, and Zoom are all great for two or more virtual group gatherings.
In the end, take into consideration that even though we’re surrounded by creature comforts, we’re undergoing daily micro trauma caused by the fear, anxiety, and stress of social distancing, disruption of our normal life, and, of course, a pandemic.
Make sure your routine allows for those moments of luxury including binging your favorite Netflix shows, taking a long hot bath or shower, reading a book, chatting on the phone with friends and family, or even indulging in comfort foods on occasion.
These moments of respite are just as important as exercise, as long as they are balanced and comingle in tandem within your quarantine routine!
2. Give Gardening a Try
Even if you’re not a green thumb or you live in a high-rise apartment, don’t skip this tip! When it comes to gardening, it’s much more than getting your hands dirty. There’s actual research that shows the mental health benefits of working with soil and plants.
Gardening has been linked to decreased stress levels and has even been found to work as an anti-depressant. This is mostly due to the fact that “dirt contains a natural antidepressant called mycobacterium vaccae,” which has been found to cause “cytokine levels to increase, which in turn boosts the production of serotonin,” that feel-good hormone that is also boosted during physical activity.
Oh yeah, gardening is also an incredibly wonderful way to get physically active!
Depending on the space you have — whether indoor or outdoor — this will change the level of activity.
If you have an outdoor garden, tending to your plants not only gets you outside in the fresh air and sunshine, but you’ll find yourself doing lots of squats, bending, walking, shoveling, lifting, and raking. This low-impact exercise is very underrated, but may actually be better long-term for your body. Think about the arm, back, and core muscles necessary for thirty minutes of “digging, planting, weeding, and other repetitive tasks that require strength or stretching.”
For those with an indoor garden, you’re still getting moving!
You’ll need to use a heavy watering can at least once a week on all those lovely plants. You’ll find yourself repotting, which involves lifting bags of soil, digging, and gently firming up the dirt. If you’re like me, you may also find yourself constantly moving heavy soil-filled pots around your house to achieve optimal sunlight or shade for your indoor babes!
When it comes to mental stimulation, gardening is queen!
Gardening involves many mental hurdles that will keep your mind busy and working towards goals. What is involved? Most likely you’ll find yourself unknowingly practicing acceptance, stumbling over perfectionism, achieving patience, connecting to the world around you, allowing yourself to be present, and, for those with a veggie garden, eating healthier!
3. Get Outside and Walk, Jog, Run, Hike, or Bike
While gardening is a great way to get outside, for those of us that don’t have a backyard, balcony, or even a front stoop to claim as our own, it’s important to actively find ways to indulge in fresh air and sunshine.
The outdoors has been scientifically linked to better mental health. The most common positive benefits have been a significant reduction in stress and anxiety, better resilience, boosted restoration, improved cognition, elevated mood, and potential decreased symptoms of depression.
The easiest tip? Go for a walk. Strap on some comfy shoes, maybe plug into some of your favorite music, a podcast, or even an audiobook, and take a stroll around your neighborhood. Alright, but your neighborhood really isn’t “walking-friendly”? Hop in your car and take a drive to an area that you find pleasant. Focus on areas that have lots of green and are less populated.
Shelter-in-place still allows for outdoor exercise such as jogging, running, and cycling, as long as you maintain that essential 6-foot social distance. If you have the ability to drive to a secluded, unpopulated trail, then go for a hike! Hiking not only gets you out of the house and out of your neighborhood, but it’s also a great way to practice forest bathing — “a mindfulness practice that began in the 1980’s in Japan” and allows you to release “your mind, thoughts, and worries in order to all your feet to meander unhindered within a forested or natural area.”
4. Make Cleaning a Physical Activity
Yes, performing housework and cleaning gets you up off the couch and involved in a productive activity. No matter how you look at it, during quarantine cleaning is a necessity! With that said, if you’re looking to get the most physical activity out of your housework, you’ll need to put your back into it … literally.
When vacuuming, incorporate lunges and tighten that booty! Fold laundry on the (vacuumed) floor and incorporate squats into the process. Have a boat-load of dishes to hand wash? Try incorporating some super simple core moves every few minutes. Dusting? Get nitty-gritty and move all those heavy books, plants, picture frames, and lamps, while also working those arm muscles! Got multiple floors in your house? Make those stairs work for you with a few of these exercises! Double up those stair exercises by bringing laundry, the vacuum, or other cleaning products along for the ride.
5. Work Standing and Incorporate Desk-Friendly Exercises
For those of us that have the ability to telecommute, sitting at a computer at home can really dampen your energy to get up and move. At work, you have the opportunity to remove yourself from your workspace, disconnect, and reset your mind for an active space.
Not so easy when you’re office also happens to be your television room and workout space!
While you may not be able to separate yourself from that nagging feeling of work, why not try to integrate a few blood pumping techniques into your work itself?
If you have the ability to stand at your computer station — such as a bench or bar — make it happen! Alternate between sitting and standing so you don’t wear your legs out. Also, try incorporating small movements into both sitting and standing positions. Just as you can with housework, you can incorporate upper and lower body exercises! This includes walking, jogging, and even running in place, modified desk pushups, tricep dips, calf raises, as well as glute squeezes, squats, and even lunges.
Simply set your alarm to go off as often as you feel you need to get that blood moving — try every thirty minutes or at least every hour — and get to your chosen exercise or exercise routine.
Learn How to Cook Plant-Based Meals at Home!
Nutty Tropical Fruit Granola Bars/One Green Planet
Reducing your meat intake and eating more plant-based foods is known to help with chronic inflammation, heart health, mental wellbeing, fitness goals, nutritional needs, allergies, gut health and more! Dairy consumption also has been linked many health problems, including acne, hormonal imbalance, cancer, prostate cancer and has many side effects.
For those of you interested in eating more plant-based, we highly recommend downloading the Food Monster App — with over 15,000 delicious recipes it is the largest plant-based recipe resource to help reduce your environmental footprint, save animals and get healthy! And, while you are at it, we encourage you to also learn about the environmental and health benefits of a plant-based diet.
Here are some great resources to get you started:
- • Weekly Vegan Meal Plans
- • Plant-Based Health Resources
- • Plant-Based Food & Recipes
- • Plant-Based Nutrition Resources
- • The Ultimate Guide to Plant-Based Nutrition
- • Budget-Friendly Plant-Based Recipes
- • High Protein Plant-Based Recipes
- • Plant-Based Meal Prep
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