The last few years during and after the COVID-19 pandemic had a serious effect on our collective physical and mental health. Exercise routines and other healthy habits became harder to keep up with during the time of business closures, social distancing and lack of motivation. The disruption of many "pre-COVID" ways of life put many people in a state of languishing, whether they know it or not.
To combat this, our Workforce Health team, made up of health coaches, dietitians and exercise physiologists, compiled tips to help you stay physically active, mentally sharp and emotionally connected during any phase of your life, whether to start over or refresh an existing routine.
Get Up and Move
Physical activity does more than improve your physical health. It releases endorphins that boost your mood and reduce stress. “Exercise boosts levels of serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine. It gives you a general good feeling about being in control in an otherwise uncontrollable situation,” said Duane Milder, Workforce Health coach. There are plenty of fitness apps and websites to help you develop an at-home exercise regimen, and many strength-training exercises can be done without gym equipment. If you feel circumstances have diminished your motivation to work out, that’s okay. Start with simple activities like stretching at home or walking around your neighborhood.
It’s easy to find comfort in potato chips and ice cream, but too many sugary and fatty foods can contribute to weight gain and poor mental health. Tracey Brand, RD, recommends mixing healthy snacks with junk food ones. “Try to make sure fruits and veggies are making their way on your plate at each meal,” she says. “These high-fiber and low-calorie foods have lots of germ-fighting potential.” Try low-fat yogurt, whole-grain crackers with hummus or one of these other healthy snack options.
Plan “You” Time into Your Day
We can often be focused on taking care of others — protecting immediate family and neighbors, working with colleagues in a remote work environment, checking in on at-risk loved ones — that we may forget to check in with ourselves. Those who care for young children, aging adults or both may start to experience signs of caregiver burnout. To avoid this, set aside at least 10 minutes every day to focus on your own mental health. Journal about your feelings. Meditate. Read a book to escape. Taking the time to help yourself will give you the energy to help others.
Boost Your Immunity With Food
A strong immune system offers protection from seasonal illnesses and other health conditions like cancer. While nothing can replace washing your hands with soap and water, certain foods do have immune-boosting properties. Citrus fruits (oranges, grapefruit, tangerines), strawberries and red bell peppers are filled with vitamin C, which stimulates the formation of antibodies to protect you from infection. Vitamin A can stave off infection, and it’s found in sweet potatoes, spinach, carrots and foods labeled “vitamin A-fortified,” like milk or cereal. Protein is another key factor in a healthy immune system. Healthy sources of protein include lean meats, poultry, eggs and seafood.
Take a Deep Breath
One deep breath can make a huge difference when you’re feeling stressed or anxious. Deep breathing exercises lower blood pressure and ease the mind while strengthening your lungs. Try this: Sit in a comfortable position with your shoulders relaxed. Close your eyes if that helps you relax. Breathe in slowly through your nose, expanding your belly. Exhale slowly for a count of five. Pause for two seconds, then inhale again. Repeat as many times as needed.
Practice Good Posture While Working
If you struggle with proper workplace posture in the office, it may be even harder to maintain while working at home. Making slight adjustments to your workstation can prevent eye strain, musculoskeletal issues and mental fatigue. Adjust your monitor so the top of your screen is at eye level. Sit with your arms and thighs parallel to the floor and your back supported. Use a pillow or folded towel for additional back support, if needed. Your wrists should be straight and relaxed when your fingers are in the middle row of the keyboard and your elbows should be loose, not locked. Finally, keep your work area clutter-free. A clean desk means a clean mind.
Prepare for a Good Night’s Sleep
A regular sleep routine can establish a sense of normalcy and keep stress at bay, while also helping you stay physically and mentally healthy. “You’ll fall asleep faster and get better quality sleep if you stick to a schedule,” Milder said. Try to go to sleep and wake up around the same time daily. Turn off electronics at least one hour before your bedtime; they emit blue light that interferes with melatonin, the hormone that helps you sleep. Plus, this gives you a break from the stream of coronavirus-related news.
If you’re having trouble falling asleep, try drinking herbal tea, taking a hot bath or shower or writing down any thoughts that keep you tossing and turning. You can also refer to our healthy sleep guide for more expert-backed tips to improve sleep.
Remember That You’re Not Alone
It’s important to remember that we can (and should) stay emotionally connected to others whenever possible. Call or video chat with your relatives, especially those who live alone. Set up a virtual game night with your friends. Learn about ways you can help your community. We’re all in this together, which means none of us are truly alone.
If your organization is interested in learning more about Workforce Health and how wellness programming might work for you, call 414-777-3414 or visit the Workforce Health website.