While we learned to live amid the COVID-19 pandemic, what else have we learned from 2020? Let’s take a look at a few areas of healthcare to learn more about how we can stay healthy throughout 2021.
We know to wear a mask, stay out of crowds, and wash our hands, but here are four other considerations that proved their worth in 2020 while we learn to live with Covid-19.
1. Socialization. The incidence of depression and feelings of isolation have increased, especially in young and elderly people, and those living alone. We miss pleasant interaction with other people, even if they are strangers. We also miss sports, theater, concerts, and meals out.
What are mental health professionals suggesting? They encourage people to keep routines and get dressed instead of living in pajamas or sweats while they binge-watch TV, surf the Internet, scroll through social media, or play video games every day. Taking care of a pet and enjoying the company of a shelter dog or cat has worked wonders. Finding new things to do with family and roommates living together like game night, taking turns cooking, or daily group yoga can break the monotony.
Other popular strategies are finding productive things to do each day—something fun like getting outside for sunshine and installing a bird feeder to improve birdwatching, or feeding the squirrels, or going fishing. Visit a friend and sit in two lawn chairs outside or host an outdoor lawn theater and stream a movie on a white sheet. We became accomplished in 2020 with Zoom get-togethers and facetiming on phones, which will be helpful going forward in 2021.
If you find it is a problem, warn people to avoid binge shopping or gambling online. Other precautions are negative social media interactions, online dating through risky web groups, and only interacting online instead of maintaining healthy relationships with family and friends.
2. Food at home. According to the Food Marketing Institute, 84 percent of consumers believe eating at home is the healthier option, and 40 percent cooked more family meals than in 2019. Even five servings of fresh, frozen, or canned fruits and vegetables per day significantly increases a person’s intake of immune-boosting phytonutrients, vitamins, minerals, fiber to feed the microbiome, carotinoids, and other nutrients. Comfort foods were in high demand initially; however, cooking and taste fatigue have set in for many with 34 percent saying they want “something interesting.”
During the winter months while the pandemic is surging, it is safest to eat at home or outside. People have been handling food fatigue with carry out and home delivery from favorite local restaurants, frozen gourmet meals, and trying new recipes with unfamiliar meats, spices, ethnic foods, fruits, vegetables, or grains. It is a great time to experiment and visit outdoor farmers’ markets when weather permits.
3. Physical activity. Exercise maintains muscle mass and strength, releases endorphins, improves mental health, immunity, and mental acuity; plus, it burns off calories to avoid obesity and Type 2 Diabetes, both of which are risk factors for COVID. Exercise also helps move nutrients in and toxins out of cells for improved function.
Any exercise is better than none, if it is safe and builds upon the patient’s current level of fitness. The safest ways to exercise include exercising at home—walking stairs, using a straight back chair to practice core strength or cans of soup for lifting, walking the dog, maintaining a flower bed or lawn, or planting a garden. Encourage outdoor activities like cross-country skiing, hiking, and going to parks with masks on away from others.
Fitness organizations encourage 150 minutes per week of moderate activity to improve health—it can be in 10-15 minute intervals throughout the week or in a couple longer sessions. Any amount should be encouraged.
4. Sleep is crucial for good mental and cognitive health, improved immunity, sorting of ideas, and mood regulation, among many other benefits now being studied.
Quality of sleep is just as important as quantity. Recommendations for quantity vary: toddlers should have 11-14 hours, teens and young adults should have at least 8 hours and not more than 12, and adults should have 8 hours of good quality sleep.
Sleep hygiene includes keeping a routine with at least 30 minutes of quiet time to wind down without TV, computer, phone, blue lights, disturbing news, or strenuous exercise before bedtime. Encourage your patients to read a good book, do crosswords or Sudoku, listen to beautiful music, or meditate until they become sleepy.
The important thing is that physicians ask their patients about their habits and lifestyle choices.