Managing Mental and Physical Health at Home
PHS '16, Boston University '20
When we think of the word “health,” it’s common to define it as the absence of physical illness or injury. But truth is, our health is defined by more than just what we can see. The true meaning of health includes physical, intellectual, emotional, and social wellbeing – all aspects of life that are specifically difficult to take care of when we are confined to our homes and unable to interact with the world around us. So, how do we stay ‘healthy’ during quarantine, and the months to come with gradual reintroduction to normal life? Here are some of the strategies that I have been using:
Physical Health: Everybody knows that exercise is good for us, but did you know that sedentary time is bad for us? Sedentary time is the amount of time per day we spend inactive – or sitting, and current research suggests that increases in sedentary time may cause declines in physical health, even despite daily exercise. So, what do we do about this? If you are someone who works out regularly, great job! If you are someone who can’t stand the thought of a run, that’s okay too. It’s time to redefine exercise.
Try to aim for anything that is not sitting, for as much of the day as you can! Stand while you work or watch television, or at least stand for 5 minutes once per hour. Walk around the neighborhood with a friend or family member. Something as small as a 20-30 minute leisurely walk can benefit you, especially if your baseline is not doing anything. For those who find the idea of daily exercise daunting, instead try to challenge yourself to spend less time sitting each day.
Intellectual Health: A common saying in neuroscience and in physical therapy is “use it or lose it.” This phrase applies to both muscles and our brains. Similar to how we lose arm strength if we don’t use our arm muscles, we lose brain strength if we don’t use our brain. You can take care of your intellectual health by choosing to read a book for 30 minutes or so instead of watching that next episode of Greys Anatomy. Or, for those of you in difficult academic programs, try rewriting your notes (by hand!) from your most important classes this past semester. Many universities and educational websites are also offering free courses during quarantine. My personal favorites are the TED app from Apple or LinkedIn Learning. Better yet, download an app like Duolingo and try learning a new language for free; 15 minutes daily of language can produce outstanding results. It is profound how much our brains can learn in just 5 minutes of attention. Continue to seek opportunities to strengthen your brain by using it as much as you can despite the urge to watch TV all day!
Emotional and Social Wellbeing: These last two categories are grouped together because they are so closely related! Believe it or not, emotional wellbeing is affected by things like exercise, food, and social interaction. To maintain good emotional health, start by watching your diet! Are you drinking enough water? Are you drinking too much caffeine? When is the last time you ate a piece of fruit… or even worse, a vegetable? Foods high in simple sugars like white pasta, sugary cereals, and pastries will make us feel groggy and cloudy after meal times. Instead, reach for whole grains, healthy fats, foods high in fiber, and plenty of fruits and vegetables. Try to limit caffeine consumption to before 12:30pm… caffeine has a half-life of about 7 hours, which means if we drink a strong cup of coffee at 1:00pm then half of the caffeine is still in our system at 8:00pm! After your diet is in check, reach out to some friends to get your daily fix of social interaction! Texting and phone calling is wildly convenient when life gets busy, but facetimes, zoom calls, and socially distanced hangouts outdoors are your best bet for quarantine! Facial expressions, body language, and tone of speech are all factors that contribute to fulfilling quality time with a friend or family member.
Sleep: After a long day of not sitting, cooking healthy meals, and interacting with people, you are bound to be exhausted! It is best to get a minimum of 7 hours of sleep per night to promote proper brain and body recovery. You will find it much easier to wake up in the mornings if you get your body into a sleep routine; going to sleep at the same time each night and waking up at the same time each morning will help your body fall into a pattern. Similar to my mom’s saying that “nothing good happens past 12:00am,” our bodies prefer to fall asleep sometime between 8:00pm and 12:00am. Of course, the exact time depends on when you choose to wake up in the morning. If you are especially daring, try leaving your blinds open to wake up with the sun! Although, in the summer the sun unfortunately rises a bit earlier than most of us like.
In conclusion, the best way to stay healthy during quarantine is to maintain and establish a routine as close to normal life as possible. Use your body, use your brain, fuel yourself with quality foods and beverages, make time for your friends, and then sleep it off when you are all done! As an added benefit, for those of you who were not a fan of your routine previous to quarantine, choosing to practice an ideal routine during quarantine may help enhance your wellbeing once normal life resumes. Develop new hobbies, learn new things, and allow yourself to embrace this newfound free time rather than falling victim to the lack of structure. Remember, “health” does not just refer to the absence of physical illness or injury, it also refers to the presence of positive physical, intellectual, emotional, and social conditions. Happy walking!