We know the feeling. It’s lockdown 3. Motivation levels are low, the days are short, dark and depressing, and a 5km run in the pouring rain is probably the last thing you want to be doing. Everyone definitely feels the same, but it’s still really important to stay healthy during lockdown and, despite what you might think, this doesn’t have to involve running marathons or drinking broccoli and carrot smoothies.
So here is our super easy, super chilled-out guide to staying healthy in lockdown. You don’t need to radically change your lifestyle to try and become the definition of health. Even adapting your routine to include one new thing would be a great achievement and put you on the right track.
Guaranteed this is the one you were hoping to avoid. “Let me be healthy without doing exercise!” you’re probably pleading (and trust me, I hear you). Especially to those who’ve never really ventured into the seemingly alien realm of fitness, it can be scary, but exercising regularly has many health benefits, like making you happier, strengthening your bones and muscles, and reducing your risk of chronic disease. (Sounds pretty good eh?)
The most important thing, especially at the moment, is working out what works for you (pun not intended). Do you want to exercise indoors or outdoors. Become cardio royalty or a weight lifting champ? Do your Chloe Ting workout alone or join an online exercise class? The options are endless but finding the right environment for you can be a deal breaker for enjoying exercise. The ‘Couch to 5k’ app or Joe Wick’s YouTube workout sessions are really great resources for fitness beginners.
Finally, don’t put too much pressure on it. Exercise isn’t a competition. If you decide to try your luck at running, no one is going to compare you Mo Farah and you shouldn’t either. It’s all about personal achievement and reaching your goal: be that 5 sit ups or 5km. Even if you can only do 10mins of exercise a day, that’s still a great start.
Get enough sleep
You’ll be glad to know that sleep is very important to your overall health. Sleep is a way of your body and mind recharging and without it your brain cannot function properly. That’s why you experience fatigue, a short temper and lack of focus after a poor night’s sleep.
The average adult needs between 7-9 hours of sleep a night and getting all those hours in will make a world of difference to how you function during the day. Of course, this isn’t always possible. In which case you need to maximise the hours you do get by making it high quality sleep.
This means no screens before bed. An internal body clock regulates your sleep cycle and blue light emitted from phones and laptops disrupts this and prevents you from falling asleep. If you really can’t resist a late night Insta scroll, then consider investing in some blue light glasses to block some of the light.
Food fuels your body and brain, therefore eating the right food ensures that you are functioning to the best of your ability. When someone says “healthy eating”, I’m sure you have visions of meals of bright green meals and your beloved chocolate bars being scurried away into a locked cupboard. But healthy eating doesn’t (and shouldn’t) mean restrictive eating; it just means making sure your meals are balanced.
You should ideally be eating 5 portions of fruit and veg a day. This is because they contain a whole load of essential minerals and vitamins which stop you from getting ill. Simple ways to integrate this into your routine might be by adding some dried fruit to your cereal in the morning or having an afternoon smoothie.
You should be basing main meals on starchy foods such as potatoes, pasta or rice, as these are high in fibre and provide you with energy. Wholegrain alternatives are preferable as they contain extra fibre which is good for your gut.
Some dairy or dairy substitute should be included in your diet, as it is a really important source of calcium which keeps your bones healthy. You should also be eating some protein. This shouldn’t form the bulk of your meal and can be varied according to your preferences. Beans, pulses, eggs, fish and lean meat are all great for getting that protein hit.
Finally your sweet tooth doesn’t have to be curbed. Just try to have sugary food items in moderation as they increase your risk of disease and tooth decay. Maybe look into alternatives to your favourite snacks, for example swapping your biscuit break for a fruity granola bar.
Obviously getting outdoors at the moment is slightly tricky and restricted, but if you are able to, a hit of fresh air can bring many health benefits.
Firstly, those golden rays from the sun help your body produce vitamin D, which is very important for your immune system and protecting you from illness. Getting outdoors once a day can also help you sleep better, as the outside light regulates your sleep cycle. And last but not least, sunshine plays an enormous role in helping your mental health. It is thought that exposure to sunlight triggers the release of serotonin in your brain, which makes you feel happy, calm and focused.
So next time you find yourself with half an hour of free time, consider swapping that Instagram scroll with a walk in the local park.
Don't be so hard on yourself
Throughout the many lockdowns we have now endured I’m sure you’ve heard endless comments from friends or the media about how “this is the perfect opportunity to be super productive”. (Not really what you want to hear if you’ve just completed your 6th Netflix binge session of the week.)
We need to drop the idea that lockdown must be a time to change your life. It’s tough. It’s tough on you and it’s tough on your mental health. Sometimes just getting through the day is enough of an achievement, and you shouldn’t be guilt-tripped into thinking otherwise. No one is expecting you to emerge this spring as a bestselling author, or as a chess champion, or a Michelin star chef. Give yourself a break and put your mental health first.