How do we manage our health and fitness needs during the Covid -19 pandemic? What kinds of exercise should we prioritize?
We are in unprecedented times. This is unknown territory for the heart and soul, not to mention the mind and body.
So, it is no surprise that many of us, myself included, are a bit disoriented and unsure of the “new normal”. Our new normal means we have lots of time, often with little to do, while, at the same time, we are filled with worry, stress and angst. Little is within our control externally. All we can do is control our reactions to our external world, which is clearly upside down right now. This requires lots of mental resilience and calmness, which we must practice through meditation and other mindful activities. (More about this later)
Another way we can survive the unknown is to keep some regular routine to remind us that we are still productive humans and have purpose in life. Most important of all routines are the things we do to maintain our good health. If there is anything we have learned from the pandemic, good health is everything.
For me, and for most of you, exercise and wellness are a big part of our regular routines. But, given this new bizarro world, I have found it very difficult to find healthy balance. I vacillate between having lots of get up and go, to periods of exhaustion. I may have 3 or 4 good days with lots of activity, then 2 or 3 that are sloth-like. I am definitely not well-balanced right now, but I am trying.
And I know everyone else is trying to find balance too. Interestingly, I see so many varying responses to the pandemic. Some people are over exercising. Some are new found fitness fanatics, embracing at-home workouts. Some people are just taking in nature and spending time on long walks with loved ones. Others are willing couch potatoes and feel completely unmotivated. What’s best? I don’t know what the right answer is, but let’s talk about it and you can decide.
What should we do to enhance or maintain wellness when our entire lives have been turned upside down socially, economically, environmentally and medically? Should we exercise more? Should we get really regimented? Should we feel guilty about not exercising? Is it Ok to be a sloth? Or is this the time I should create a plan and push myself?
To answer these questions, and explore our own challenges around self-motivation for health and fitness, first we must understand the process for “self actualization” or “self improvement”.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a behavioral/psychological theory that explains that self-improvement, aka self-actualization, can only occur on a foundation of safety and security. This is particularly relevant to our current situation, right? Many people have lost their sense of safety. Some have lost their basic needs like shelter and food and work. These kinds of stressors are the most deeply rooted in our psyche. They do the most damage to us. So, if you’re feeling stressed, depressed and maybe anxious and desperate… think about this model. Your most basic needs are not being met! It’s almost impossible to think about reaching a fitness goal when your physiological and safety needs are at risk.
Your body is also on high alert. You are using much of your mental and physical energy to hold things together. And we do not have an unlimited supply of energy or willpower. The mere effort of holding things together creates great stress and can use up energy and willpower. And don’t fool yourself….this is affecting you on a physiological level. Our body’s reactions to stress are bred into us. It is instinctual; it is the Fight or Flight syndrome. The Fight or Flight syndrome is the ultimate physical stressor; increasing blood pressure, heart rate, breathing rate, muscle tension and creating an overly alerted psyche. Used in short bouts, this syndrome is useful and has kept us alive since the beginning of time. But chronically…over the course of an 12 or 16 week pandemic? It will wear you down. This is true serious stress, with all of it’s mental and physical dangers.
Thus, in this pandemic, I think that your primary goal should be to engage in physical activities in a gentle way; a way that allows you to build and maintain health and resilience. It is essential to not break yourself down further. What do you need to do to refresh and energize yourself rather than stress and deplete yourself further?
Here’s some options to consider:
Add meditation or meditative techniques to quiet your hyper-active mind. This should be the first addition to your current wellness regimen. As I mentioned earlier, what happens to us in this world, especially now, is out of our control. We can only control how we react. We could react with excess fear, or denial, or exhaustion or depression…. But how do we want to react? It is far better to have a calmer mind and body when facing adversity. It makes everything easier to take in, process and slowly choose how to react. It’s about pausing before the reaction.
Carefully consider what dose of exercise feels right for you. While you may get excited to fill all of your extra time with fitness fitness fitness, watch out for over-training! You are already revved up and running hot. Does a hot engine need to be revved even more? It can cause a breakdown, right? Same with the human body. I’m not trying to discourage any great intentions, all I am saying is to be smart and don’t overdo it. Ramp up slowly. If heavy exercise is your choice as a response to this pandemic, consider that too much exercise may very well be detrimental to your overall immunity and health. An article in the Washington Post details how excessive exercise can dampen the immune system, as well as create other negative adaptations like increased heart rate or increased chronic pain. https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/wellness/exercise-immunity-coronavirus/2020/04/14/a4dcb5f4-7e82-11ea-8013-1b6da0e4a2b7_story.html
Do what you normally might not have time or opportunity to do. I think this is why we see so many people out and about walking the trails and woods. People are finally having time to get outside, rather than being stuck in an office all day. What is it that you would like to do more of? More strength work? Do it. More outdoors? Do it. More stretching? Do it.
Get outdoors. If I could control your life (which I’d like to do ha ha), I’d recommend you get outside as much as humanly possible. We need our connection to the earth and mother nature more than ever. The quietness of the woods, the lapping waves of the ocean, the morning birds… it still all goes on, even as we feel like the world is stopping. Get outdoors and breathe. Really breathe.
Cut yourself some slack. This is a time to nurture yourself. Your goal should be to create a calm and secure atmosphere in your life as a balance to your external world. Getting too self-critical with yourself, guilting yourself to death, demanding perfection without acknowledgement of the pandemic, is a recipe for feeling bad. Why would we want to make ourselves feel bad, when we are already so burdened? Cut yourself some slack. Forgive yourself for not being perfect. If this means you exercise less right now than usual, re-frame it. Maybe you just need to change things up? For example, if you are used to several long exercise sessions per week, but are lacking the energy for long sessions, consider executing several short exercise sessions over the course of a day. They are just as valuable, if not more valuable, than long exercise sessions. Some people call them “Micro Workouts”.
Your health is your most important asset. Right now, during these times of the corona virus, do everything you can to stay well. Eat great. Get good sleep. Create meaningful and frequent connections. And consider some of the suggestions above for better balance in your current reality. Namaste.