23 Easy Ways You Can Be a Healthier Person During Quarantine
Sleep, exercise, and practice mindfulness to stay healthy while you isolate during the pandemic.
While quarantine has helped contain the spread of the coronavirus, making a big impact on a public-health level, maintaining your individual health is its own unique challenge. Being isolated at home and trying to make sense of these uncertain times can make it much harder to exercise, eat well, and practice other healthy habits—some of the very things that help your immune system protect against illness. On top of that, there's the struggle to maintain good mental health in the absence of support systems, routines, and the things that typically bring you joy. That said, you're not powerless during the pandemic—and in that spirit, doctors, therapists, and other experts offer their best tips on how to stay healthy during quarantine.
Life as you knew it may feel turned upside down during quarantine, but your physical and mental health will benefit from maintaining whatever normalcy you can through this turbulent time. Angela Ficken, a Boston-based psychotherapist, suggests beginning with the basics, like going to bed, waking up, and eating meals around the same time every day.
Going for a brisk walk or run can keep you active, healthy, and fit—not to mention it's a rare chance to feel like a part of your community, even if it's from a distance. "While staying six feet away from others, be sure to smile or say 'hi' to those you pass along the way," says Ficken. "These are simple ways to connect with others despite physical distance, which will reduce feelings of loneliness and help you be in the present moment," she adds.
You may not have all the equipment you need for your usual workout at the gym, but you can use your own body weight for resistance by doing squats, lunges, and planks. Want to take the workout a step further? Get creative by transforming common household items into weights.
Mary Johnson, founder of the coaching service, Lift, Run, Perform, recommends lifting water jugs or bottles of laundry detergent—both of which have convenient handles for gripping.
For some of us, home workout routines can easily fall into ruts. That's why Anthea Rushing, who, along with her husband Chris Rushing, runs Rush Fitness in New York City, recommends keeping the challenge alive with compound moves. "Add three different exercises to make one big exercise," Rushing says. "This works a lot of muscles at the same time and it's great for when you have limited equipment." By repeating a circuit of three challenging movements, you'll increase your strength and get your heart rate going for an added cardiovascular benefit.
As Rushing points out, now is a great time to try new workout moves at home that you might be too intimidated to try at the gym. Try getting outside of your comfort zone, so that when you do return to the gym in the company of others, you'll do it with just a bit more confidence. And for other things you can do for others in isolation, check out 7 Easy Ways to Help Someone Who's Alone During Quarantine.
Having a less-structured schedule, fewer activities, and added stress can translate into frequent trips to the fridge. That's why Rushing recommends trying intermittent fasting, which can reintroduce some structure to your eating habits. "Having a window of eight hours of eating definitely controls what we ingest," she says. The key is to focus on making healthy choices during your shortened eating window, rather than over-restricting any particular food groups.
Being isolated can leave you feeling powerless, lonely, and obsolete. That's why Latasha Matthews, LMFT, owner and CEO of Illumination Counseling and Coaching, suggests focusing your energy on doing something constructive for others. "This pandemic is impacting us all, and compassion and kindness is a healer," she says. "Find ways to help someone in need, and focus on what you can do for others." Looking for a little inspiration? These Acts of Kindness Are Just What You Need.
If the news is taking its toll on you, try to balance out the negativity with activities that you find restorative and comforting. "Grab the information needed to stay safe, but practice boundary setting and adhere to strict limits," says Matthews. Consider taking a bubble bath, calling a friend, or working out when you notice you've reached your limit and need to unwind. For tips that'll help you unplug, check out these 7 Expert-Backed Ways to Cut Down on Your Screen Time Right Now.
Matthews recommends organizing online events to keep your friendships stimulated. "Online book clubs, virtual coffee and dinner dates, online work out groups, online birthday parties, and graduations can serve as a constant reminder that we are creative people and there are various ways to connect," she says.
It's beyond understandable if your sleep is suffering right now, but getting the right amount of rest is key for maintaining both your physical and emotional health. "Be mindful in protecting your sleep by creating sleep rituals and patterns," Matthews says. Having a hot cup of tea, reading a book, or taking a soothing shower can all be great ways to make your evenings more relaxing and conducive to a good night's rest.
Though we may be physically isolating to stop the spread of coronavirus, Matthews points out that "now is not the time to isolate and minimize your needs." Asking for, and accepting, support from the people in your life can dramatically improve your well-being—both by helping you meet your basic needs, and by reminding you that you're not in this alone.
"When you take a deep breath, it sends the message to your brain to relax," says Susan Verde, a mindfulness and meditation expert. "In turn, the brain helps your body to relax by slowing your heart rate and decreasing blood pressure." First, sit in a comfortable position with your hand on your belly. Then take a deep breath in through your nose, with your belly expanding outward, and exhale through your mouth, feeling your belly move inward. Repeat this up to 10 times as necessary.
Verde also recommends conducting "mental body scans," which bring awareness to every part of your body and the sensation in each spot. "You begin at your feet, sensing and acknowledging any pain, itch, ache or discomfort you may feel," she explains. "The goal is not to relieve the pain, but to acknowledge the sensation so you can breathe into the tension and visualize the tension ease as you exhale."
This simple exercise is something everyone can do, and everyone can benefit from. All you do is tense one muscle group at a time for a duration of three to five seconds, then immediately release all tension in your body at once.
"It has been shown that when you release, that muscle group tends to be more relaxed than before the exercise," says Verde. "For maximum effect, move through all muscle groups—fists, hands, lower arms, whole arms, feet, lower legs, whole legs, and full body."
Laves-Webb suggests having a conversation with the five-year-old version of yourself. "Speak to them compassionately and kindly, ask them what they need, explore their fears, and acknowledge their emotions," he says. "Honor this part of you and invite them to stay in your room and take comfort while the 'adult you' handles other responsibilities."
According to Laves-Webb, "this period of time is a grief experience," for many people. "Reframe your emotional experience as a grief reaction and truly allow yourself to access feelings of anger, bargaining, denial, and sadness or depression," he says. This will help keep you from responding to your stress with unhealthy habits or patterns.
It may seem obvious, but your diet plays a huge role in your overall health—especially during this period of quarantine. As Ryan Maciel, a dietician and head nutrition coach for Precision Nutrition, explains, "If your diet is lousy, you'll get sick more often than someone who eats a healthier diet. Viruses and bacterial infections will hit you harder and keep you out for longer." He recommends stocking up on whole foods, such as lean protein, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats, which allow our bodies to respond to illnesses quickly and efficiently.
Because gut health is essential to immunity, Maciel recommends planning meals that include plenty of prebiotics—foods like asparagus, onions, bananas, and flax seeds—which provide necessary energy for probiotics.
Probiotics are beneficial bacteria—found in foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, and kimchi—and, according to Maciel, can work wonders on your immune system. "They have been shown to help us recover faster, once we get sick," he says.
Kimberly Rossi, the spa director of the Art of Living Retreat Center in North Carolina, recommends using massage therapy to stay healthy during quarantine. You can give yourself oil massages on the shoulders, arms, legs, or feet—or if you're quarantined with a partner, you can trade massages. This will help to "relax your body and care for skin and muscle tissues," she says.
One way that you can take care of yourself physically and emotionally is to incorporate tea time into your daily ritual. Green teas have a range of health benefits, but Rossi also recommends soothing rose or chamomile teas. Her only caveat? "Caffeine will overstimulate sympathetic drive, increase your heart rate, and eventually decrease energy," she explains. For that reason, you'll want to stick to decaf or limit your intake to one or two cups daily.
As Rossi points out, in addition to its obvious health benefits, practicing yoga "has been proven to help in stress management, lowering anxiety and cortisone levels." If you're new to yoga, she recommends practicing basic balancing poses, yogic breath, and alternate nostril breathing—also known as pranayama—to calm the mind and relax.
While staying healthy is everyone's key priority right now, Natasha Trentacosta, MD, sports medicine specialist and orthopedic surgeon at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles, notes that excessive exercise can have detrimental effects on your overall health.
"Just because there is more free time in [some] people's schedules, it does not mean that we should be spending every minute doing exercise on a treadmill or stationary bike," Trentacosta says. "It's essential to allow your body to recover from exercise sessions, and to avoid sports injuries while hospitals are strained."