Health and Wellness

Easy ways to get the bare minimum exercise and nutrition you need while cooped up

@criene | Twenty20

If you'd rather share memes about gaining the "quarantine 15" than participate in a virtual workout during Covid-19, that's completely understandable. As many people adjust to living and working at home, we've also had to change the way that we approach wellness in isolation.

Those who had a consistent gym routine pre-pandemic may be feeling the effects the most. "It's very easy to develop an all or nothing mentality, where if you can't recreate or experience that [workout], you just do nothing," Prentiss Rhodes, certified master trainer with the National Academy of Sports Medicine, tells CNBC Make It.

On top of not being able to exercise as often as you typically do, "depending on your situation, maybe nutrition isn't of the highest priority as it normally is," Kris Sollid, a registered dietitian and senior director of nutrition communications at the International Food Information Council, tells CNBC Make It. You might not have access to the same foods as you did before, or you may be dealing with job loss, too.

In stressful times like these, it can be difficult to maintain any semblance of normal routine. But here are simple ways that experts say you can stay active and eat well during the Covid-19 pandemic:

Do bite-sized workouts

It's recommended that adults get at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise a week for substantial health benefits. Moderate-intensity means your heartrate is elevated and you may be breathing harder, but you can comfortably talk. For example, power-walking, dancing or going on an easy bike ride all count. 

But here's the thing: "Your body can't tell the difference if you did that straight through, or if you broke that up into chunks," Rhodes says.

Splitting your daily workouts into shorter segments that you do throughout the day might be more manageable with your schedule, and it could be more effective than trying to do a full workout, Rhodes says. With short bursts of exercise, you typically have more energy, so you can work out more intensely, he explains.

"If you can give yourself two to three sets of 15 to 20 minutes of exercise scattered around different parts of your day, you still get amazing results," he adds. For example, you could spend a few minutes foam rolling in the morning, walk up and down your street at a brisk pace at lunch and end the day with a circuit workout that includes muscle-strengthening bodyweight exercises. 

No equipment needed

You can get a lot of mileage out of the simple bodyweight exercises that you used to do in P.E. class as a kid, Rhodes says.

For example, push-ups, squats, lunges and jumping-jacks are all great, simple exercises that you can do at home with no fancy equipment. More challenging bodyweight-only exercises that double as cardio include mountain climbers and burpees, he says.

Rhodes suggests moving through three bodyweight exercises at a time, doing 30 seconds of repetitions followed by 30 seconds of rest. You can do that for a couple of rounds until you reach 10 minutes. (Even Arnold Schwarzenegger is a fan of bodyweight home workouts.)

If you're looking for bodyweight workouts that are already created for you, there are lots of free videos on YouTube, such as HASFit and Blogilates

Consider your energy level

Most of us are under a lot more stress than usual due to Covid-19, Rhodes says. "If you have all of your mental resources diverted to thinking about things of that nature, you're not going to have any energy to go through a workout," he says.

Stress hormones can also make you feel more tired, so it's important to be mindful of that before you attempt to push yourself in a workout, he says. Be kind to yourself and listen to your body if you're too tired or overwhelmed to work out, he adds.

Frozen fruits and vegetables are just as healthy

Grocery shopping is a new ballgame during a pandemic. It's recommended that adults eat between 1 and 2 cups of fruit and 1 and 3 cups of vegetables each day, although the exact amounts you need can vary based on your age, sex and activity level. (To put that in perspective, a half-cup of fresh, frozen or canned fruit counts as one serving.) Fresh fruits and vegetables may be picked over or limited, but there are still ways you can prioritize eating nutrient-rich foods in other forms, Sollid says.

"Re-acquainting yourself with the nutrition and the value that's found in the center aisles of the store is important at this time," he says. For example, packaged, canned or frozen fruits and vegetables are all just as good as the fresh versions, he says.

You can also find cheaper and more self-stable versions of lean proteins like canned tuna, salmon and chicken, he adds. Adults should aim to eat about 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (you can multiply your weight in pounds by 0.36), but more active people might need to consume more. 

"Not everything has to be fresh all the time," he says.

Don't stress weight fluctuations…

It's completely normal for your weight to fluctuate five or more pounds each day. Several factors, including the types of foods you eat and exercise or your hormones, can impact how much you weigh at any given time.

Now is not the time to be caught up in how much you weigh, Sollid says. Covid-19 is the bigger threat to your health than minor weight loss or gain (however, preliminary research suggests that obesity may be a factor that makes Covid-19 worse).

"We're all going through enough stress right now," he says. "Over-emphasizing weight at this point probably isn't the healthiest thing you can do. It's more important to think about weight in the long-term."

… or daily food decisions

To that end, many people are eating differently during the pandemic, turning to quarantine baking and more comforting foods, Sollid says.

"It's okay to have an indulgent item once in a while, as long as your other choices and meals are providing good nutrition over over time," he says. "Understand that this is a stressful time and so some people may need those indulgences more often than they normally do."

But "try to limit over-eating and consuming more calories than we need, because obviously for many of us we're probably not exerting the same amount of energy through exercise and other outlets as we normally do," he says.

If you find that you tend to snack mindlessly throughout the day, Sollid suggests "being more present with your food." Notice when you feel hungry, versus when you might just be feeling bored or stressed. While you're snacking or eating a meal, pay attention to how satisfied the food makes you, and stop when you feel full.

For those who might have the opposite response to stress and anxiety and may forget to eat, lose their appetite or not eat enough, experts say scheduling meals, focusing on foods that you can tolerate and developing anxiety-reducing habits can help during particularly stressful periods.  

But any changes that happen to your body now are most likely temporary.

"It's important to be more kind to yourself then you typically would, not beat yourself up about individual choices you might be making one day," he adds.

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