The COVID-19 pandemic has taken its toll on our minds and bodies. Even if we've managed to stay active, the disruption to our daily routines — coupled with the threat and uncertainties surrounding the virus — has caused us to develop a number of bad habits. How can we better use our time?
The all-star lineup of specialists affiliated with Memorial Hermann offers 15 out-of-the-box ways to enjoy down time while improving your physical, mental, and emotional health.
1. Take a time out
"Try to limit your news intake to one hour a day," says Stacie Allphin, director of program services for Memorial Hermann Prevention and Recovery Center. "While we all need to be aware of what is happening in the world, the onslaught of information and speculation in the news can tax your mental health. Taking a 'time out' from the news can relieve tension, anxiety, depression, and fear, especially for those who struggle with mental health issues."
2. De-stress your body
"Physical activity is one of the best ways to de-stress your body. Just a bit of movement can release endorphins in the brain, which can increase your general wellbeing," says Allphin. "Chair yoga or chair workouts are great for people with limited range of motion, or for those who are just out of shape. Starting slowly is the key. If you have health issues, you'll want to confer with your physician before starting any physical activity."
3. Stimulate your mind
"Put down the remote and pick up a puzzle," suggests sports medicine primary care physician Benedict Ifedi, MD, with Memorial Hermann Medical Group. Studies have shown that puzzles, such as crossword puzzles, jigsaw puzzles, and Sudoku, can help improve vocabulary, memory, problem-solving skills, and visual-spatial reasoning. Puzzles also increase our brains' production of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that regulates mood and feelings of optimism, lifting our mood, and can help us relax, lowering our stress level.
4. Get a good (productivity) buzz
"If you've been putting off planting a garden, cleaning out the garage, or organizing the house, now's the time," says Dr. Ifedi. "Our homes have become our refuge. And there's no better time to get your space the way you want it to be. Your mind will appreciate the feeling of accomplishment, and your body will benefit from the physical movement."
5. Lighten up your favorite meals
Improve your health by creating lighter, heart-healthier versions of your favorite recipes. "The American College of Cardiology and American Heart Association recommend a diet emphasizing the intake of vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, whole grains, and fish. Monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats are beneficial. Saturated fats and trans fatty acids should be avoided," says MHMG cardiologist Biyebelemo Ekpete, MD, who says she finds great recipes on cookinglight.com and the Create TV network.
6. Stay connected
Allphin says the requirement to physically distance ourselves, while important, has led many to feel isolated and deprived of our essential connection to others. "Make the extra effort to stay connected with friends and family on the phone or through FaceTime or online platforms such as Zoom," she says. "Sharing your fears and concerns with loved ones who understand and can relate may help lower your anxiety. For fun and distraction (and a little brain stimulation), you can play games online with friends and family."
7. Do a good deed
There is always a need to help others, but seldom has the need been greater than it is right now, with so many people out of work. By volunteering your time and talents, you'll not only help others, you'll help yourself. According to mental health and wellness website helpguide.com, volunteering can help you to make friends, connect with the community, learn new skills, and even advance your career. Plus, it can also help protect your mental and physical health.
Want to make a meaningful difference right now in the Houston area? Volunteer Houston has a list of COVID-19 response needs ranging from distributing meals and food to writing letters of gratitude to first responders.
8. Learn how to save a life
Speaking of good deeds, how about learning or brushing up on CPR and first aid? "The instructions for first aid and CPR can be reviewed for free on CPRandFirstaid.net," says Dr. Ekpete. "The American Red Cross website also has several online classes, including babysitting basics, child and baby first aid/CPR/AED, lifeguard management, and more."
9. Rev up your day
With just a little effort, you can turn an ordinary day into a get-fit day. "If you work at home, set a timer and get up and move. Do squats, jumping jacks, anything to get the blood pumping," says UT ortho surgeon James Gregory, MD, who is affiliated with Memorial Hermann Ironman Sports Medicine Institute. "Take the stairs instead of the elevator at work. It's good cardio and a great way to avoid the close proximity of an elevator."
10. Add a new twist to your daily run
If you've taken a long car trip with family, you've probably played the yellow car game, the objective of which is to be the first to spot a yellow car on the road. Dr. Gregory says you can put a similar spin on your daily run. "Every time you see a park bench, do a set of jumping jacks. If you pass a parked car, do squats. It's something you can do to shake up your routine and make your workout more challenging and fun," he says. And it's not limited to runners — walkers and cyclists can play too!
11. Have a field day
The pandemic has provided us an abundance of family time. If you've run out of ways to fill your days, why not plan a good old-fashioned family field day? Think potato sack races, relay races, an obstacle course, and scavenger hunt. Incorporate water games to stay cool (and make sure you hydrate and wear sunscreen). "I will tell you from recent personal experience," says Dr. Gregory, "as an adult, a potato sack race is shockingly hard."
12. Start a revolution (a dance revolution, that is)
"The goal of aerobic exercise is to get your heart rate slightly elevated and sustain the effort for at least 30 minutes," says Kimberly Gandler, human performance manager at Memorial Hermann Ironman Sports Medicine Institute. "If you're confined to your home, pull out your old workout videos or games like the Wii or Xbox Dance Dance Revolution, dance to your favorite songs, climb up and down your stairs, or even walk around your house while you're on work calls."
13. Take a hike
Yes, in Houston. While there aren't many hills in the Bayou City, you might be surprised to learn that there are more than 128 miles of hike and bike trails in and around the Houston area. Sensitive to the sun? Try a shady stroll in the Edith L. Moore Nature Sanctuary, the Houston Arboretum & Nature Center, or Terry Hershey Park. Just remember to hydrate and stay at least six feet from your fellow nature lovers.
14. Get your Zs
Sleep is essential to our wellbeing. Sleep deprivation can contribute to stress and anxiety. Dr. Ekpete offers these tips for getting a good night's sleep: "Keep your sleep area free of clutter, noise, and outside light. Stick to a sleep routine. Avoid large meals and consuming alcohol, caffeinated beverages, or excessive fluids prior to sleep. Minimize excessive stimulation, such as watching TV, using a cellphone, or reading a book, before bed. Finally, prolonged napping may interfere with nighttime sleep, so limit your daytime naps to less than 30 minutes."
15. Practice gratitude
"With all the issues we're faced with right now, it's easy to dwell on the negative," says Dr. Gregory, "but there's always a bright side. Take time to meditate, to stretch, and to breathe. Look for the positive. Reflect on the things you are grateful for. It helps to put things in perspective."
For more tips on keeping your family safe and heathy, visit the Memorial Hermann COVID-19 Resource Center at memorialhermann.org/coronavirus.