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How to stay healthy during the lockdown

Charli Shield
March 25, 2020

Cooped up and feeling sluggish, bored, even a bit miserable? Despite being confined indoors during the coronavirus outbreak, there are still lots of things you can do to protect your health and wellbeing.

Woman holding her dog while waving at her laptop
Image: picture-alliance/PantherMedia/D. Cervo

At unsettling times like the coronavirus outbreak, it might feel like things are very much out of your control. Most routines have been thrown into disarray and the future, as far as the experts tell us, is far from certain.

But there are still lots of things you can do — aside from social distancing and washing your hands with soap — to protect your health and wellbeing. 

Eating well 

Without a vaccine, none of us can entirely eliminate our risk of contracting coronavirus. And experts say that's still 18 to 24 months away.

But eating as healthily as possible is important not only for our physical health, but our psychological well-being, too. A healthy diet has been shown to reduce our risk of chronic illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity, as well as depression and anxiety.

You don't have to follow a particular diet, just avoid processed foods as they tend to be high in sugar. 

The best foods for our mental health are generally the healthiest foods. Complex carbohydrates, found in fruit, vegetables and whole grains, provide important nourishment for our brains as they slowly release energy, which also stabilizes our moods. 

Colorful cauliflower
The best foods for our mental health are also the healthiest.Image: Imago/Frank Sorge

A balanced diet ideally includes a variety of foods high in vitamins A, B, C, D and E, as well as the minerals iron, zinc and selenium.

B vitamins, found in green vegetables like broccoli and spinach, beans, bananas, eggs, poultry, fish and beetroot, are important for our brain and it's happiness chemicals, serotonin and dopamine. A lack of B6, B12 and folate (B9) are common in cases of depression. 

It's also vital to look after our gut health, which a growing body of research shows has a remarkable impact on our mood and behavior. Prebiotics and probiotics, found in fermented foods like kefir, tempeh, sauerkraut, kimchi and yogurt can reduce inflammation, boost our moods and cognitive function.

In its tips for coping with the stress of the coronavirus outbreak, the World Health Organization (WHO) reminds us not to "use smoking, alcohol or other drugs to deal with your emotions." They recommend speaking to a health worker or counsellor if you're feeling overwhelmed. 

Sleeping soundly

Sleep is essential for our bodies to repair cells, clear toxins, consolidate our memories and process information. There's good evidence that sleep deprivation can have major impacts on our health — negatively affecting our psychological wellbeing concentration and even our emotional intelligence.

It can also increase our risk of developing chronic health conditions, like diabetes, obesity and heart disease.

Tree panda in a tree
Enough sleep is crucial for our bodies to function.Image: Imago/Stylbruch/Y. Fischer

Just like our schedules for eating, working and exercising, it's important to sustain a regular sleep routine. For most people, between six to nine hours a night is sufficient. Going to bed and waking up at a similar time each day can help maintain a sense of normality, and help you follow through with plans.

If you're finding it difficult to get to sleep because you're lying awake worrying, try to limit your consumption of the news before bed. It can also be helpful to reduce your exposure to screens in the evening, as the effect of the blue light on our retinas can disrupt our sleep quality.

Exercising enough

Exercise releases chemicals in the body that make us feel good, and it's also been linked to better sleep, reduced stress and anxiety, and improved memory and cognition.

Team sports may be off the agenda, but you can certainly still exercise on your own, says Marcus Thormann, owner of a high-tech fitness studio in western Germany. He recommends moderate movement for 30 minutes per day, as backed by the WHO

"You can even break that up into 10 minute sections — 10 minutes in the morning, 10 in the afternoon, and 10 in the evening. When you've established that as a daily routine, then your day will be better structured as well," he told DW.

Many fitness instructors — yoga and pilates, personal trainers, dance teachers — are offering their classes online during the outbreak, some of them for free. All you need is a mat or towel on the floor and a reliable internet connection. 

Or, as Thormann points out, just a good dose of creativity. "I  saw a social media post about a guy who used his 7-meter balcony, so about 20 feet in length, to run an entire marathon." 

While that's "a very extreme example," Thormann says, there are many ways to stimulate your body's circulation. He suggests "walking up and down the stairs in your home, or in your building, for example. Or, you could jog in place inside, or do some shadow boxing, or jumping jacks, or sit-ups, or push-ups."

Person riding a bike through a park
Going outside for even only 120 minutes per week has been linked to better health.Image: picture-alliance/NurPhoto/A. Beqiri

While the area you can roam outside might be limited during lockdown, going outdoors, even briefly, has been shown to improve people's state of mind. Even if a short walk once per day is all you can manage, research suggests just two hours a week in nature is linked with better health and wellbeing.

But be careful not to exercise if you have flu-like symptoms, or if you feel exhausted.

Social connection 

Now more than ever, we need our friends. Evidence shows that social connectedness is as important for our health as diet, movement and sleep.

No, you can't have a dinner party or a picnic in lockdown — in person! But not all social interactions have to be face-to-face to be meaningful. Try recreating them through video calls — you could organize a virtual dinner via apps like Zoom, Houseparty or good old Google Hangouts, or take a friend on a virtual walk or do a housebound activity together, like craft or drawing. 

Think of it as being distantly social.

Ladybug on a leaf
Does your herb garden need some loving?Image: picture-alliance/Joker/P. Steuer

Calming activities

While it might seem like the world is only talking about one topic right now, enforced social isolation could also provide the perfect opportunity for many people to take a break from the news cycle. 

What do you usually not have time for? Gardening, cooking, pickling, puzzles, craft, sewing, learning to meditate, building furniture, reading that pile of books on your bedside?

Now could be the perfect time to do them all, or some, or half of a few — whatever you can manage.

Through it all, remember as the WHO has advised, to "draw on skills you have used in the past that have helped you manage previous adversities."