Health and wellness are important aspects of crisis management. Throughout this COVID-19 pandemic and every other crisis, you should pay particular attention to your health. You do not have to contract the virus for your health to be significantly affected by current events. These days we all are in midst of one of the biggest health crises of this century. We are facing an unprecedented disaster; a novel disease with COVID-19, economic instability, looming recession and uncertainty in the stock market.
During these troubled times maintaining your health and wellness can be a real challenge. With gyms closed and no group activities due to social distancing, it becomes really difficult to exercise regularly. Most of the people are working from their homes so their mobility is greatly reduced. In such situations looking after your physical and psychological health can be difficult but there are ways which you can maintain both.
Your body, mind and spirit probably have no idea how to cope with the situations you are facing right now. This is why paying particular attention to your health is of the utmost importance. The pandemic will eventually come to an end. When it does, you want your body, mind and spirit to be at optimal health.
Here are our top tips for maintaining optimal health during these times of uncertainty:
Maintain your sleeping routine
The biggest challenge that many people face during uncertainty is the disturbance of their sleeping routine. Sleep hygiene is essential for a healthy lifestyle, therefore, properly maintaining your sleeping routine is an integral part of health management.
You may have noticed that, even with all the free time you have, you are not sleeping better. Sleep is essential for maintaining optimal physical and mental health. When you maintain proper sleep hygiene, your body and mind function much more efficiently allowing you to make sound and rational decisions. Most importantly, adequate sleep along with quality sleep strengthens the immune system.
The quality of sleep you get is based on the efforts you put into maintaining proper sleep hygiene. Measures for maintaining sleep hygiene include:
Limit Screen Time before bed
• The blue light emitted from computers, phones, tablets etc. can impact your circadian rhythm (sleep/wake regulator) which can keep you up for much longer periods of time
Limiting daytime naps
• It may be tempting to have an afternoon ‘nanna-nap’, but try to limit these in the latter part of the day. Early afternoon is the best time, particularly if you are an early riser.
Avoiding stimulants 2-3 hours before bed
• The key is allow your body to “switch off”. Limit stimulants such as caffeine and sugar so that your body is ready to start slowing down before bed.
Establishing a relaxing bedtime routine
• It’s time to nurture yourself and prepare for the peaceful slumber ahead. Establishing a regular routine allows your body to prepare for the nights rest by signalling to the brain that it’s time to switch off.
Creating a pleasant sleeping environment.
• Make your bedroom a peaceful place to rest. Fluff up your pillows, light a candle or play some soothing music… Your body will thank you in the morning.
Keep your Diet simple
Healthy eating plays an essential role in health and wellness during a crisis. When you eat nutritious meals, your body and mind are better equipped to stay healthy throughout the crisis. Foods rich in antioxidants such as fruits and vegetables should be an important part of your diet. When planning meals think of a ‘healthier version’ of the meal.
A simple diet is not only healthy but it is also easy to digest. Some simple steps to include are:
• Do not forget your neighbourhood fruit and veggie shop. Generally, many of these shops source their produce locally.
• Eating watermelon in the middle of winter has become a privilege we have become accustomed too. Eat foods that you would generally find in the Autumn season. How about those growing pumpkins!
• Do not forget about the most important isle in the supermarket… the Produce Section. While you may want to limit the amount of time you spend shopping, when you do, remember the first isle in the supermarket. Fruit and vegetables contain so many nutritious vitamins and mineral. Everything your immune system needs to fight off an infection.
Enjoy your downtime
Keeping yourself calm and stress free can be a big challenge especially when you’re locked down at home. But you can try using this time to give some rest to your mind, body, and soul. Too often we get wrapped up in needing to ‘DO SOMETHING’ or “ACHIEVE our GOALS”. Having downtime to rest, recover and integrate is essential for a healthy life. Your busy life is often focused on the ‘next thing’, or the ‘To-do-list’, or ‘what the news is saying’ or the…. This is a time to switch gears, drop down into neutral and let yourself coast while you some the time. Listen and pay attention to the subtle signals that your body is trying to tell you.
Use this downtime to rediscover yourself focusing on the important things in your life. When was the last time you allowed yourself to ‘JUST BE’, rather than ‘JUST DOING’? Try yoga, give yourself a luxurious spa treatment in your home, or start a puzzle. Try to enjoy your downtime as the much awaited ‘me time’ that you always wanted.
This is where we can let our creative energy spark forward. So many people have seen their daily exercise routine cease to exist. Social distancing and the closure of many of our gyms, F45 classes, Crossfit sessions and countless others have come to a halt. How are you filling this time at home?
Incidental Exercise could be the missing link during these uncertain times. This involves making ‘every-day’ activities into a gym routine. How many times have you climbed the stairs in your house or apartment complex? What about doing some lunges when you are vacuuming the floor? Have you tried parking at the back of the carpark when you go to get groceries? There are so many ways we can incorporate exercise and mobility into our daily activities. Get creative and watch your body come alive!
Stay connected with your loved ones
As people are staying indoors to prevent the spread of Covid-19, it is more important to keep in touch with your loved ones. Regularly check-in on your loved ones, friends and family members to keep their spirits high. The most important thing right now is to stay positive and spread positivity.
Meditation is an activity for maintaining mental, physical and spiritual health. By meditating, you take a step back and reflect on activities. Instead of having your mind continuously running, when you meditate, you maintain peace and stillness in your own space. Mindfulness meditation is an important form of meditation during a crisis.
The take home message is to CONTROL WHAT YOU CAN CONTROL and allow the rest to unfold around you. So many social liberties have been put ‘on hold’ which makes it very easy to stay pessimistic or focus on the tragedy surrounding us. When you control the things you can control like Sleep Hygiene, Simple Eating, Enjoying your Downtime, Incidental Exercise, you will be amazed at how much power this gives you. Your health and the health of your family are the most important aspects to control right now, make it your number one priority and watch your body, mind and spirit respond.
rest is never the fix...
When was the last time you went to an allied health practitioner and were told to ‘rest’? Eliminating what triggers your pain for a few weeks will likely decrease your symptoms, it is never a final solution. Chances are the pain will eventually return because you never addressed why the problem started in the first place.
Eliminating the movement, posture or load that causes your pain is only half of the battle in alleviating pain in an injury. Anyone can tell you to stop doing something that hurts. Eliminating symptoms and building your body to become more resilient to future injury requires a different and more active approach. Let’s kick-start an active approach, by learning about our body’s ‘core’ and how it’s function relates to both the cause and fix of injury.
What is Core-stability?
The biggest misperception is that your core comprises of your rectus abdominis (6-pack) and this alone. It is composed of the abdominal muscles on your front and sides, the erector muscles of the back and even the larger muscles that span multiple joints (like the lats and psoas- hip flexor muscles). It may surprise you that the glutes are also an important part of the ‘core’. Each and every one of these muscles must work together in order to enhance the stability of the spine.
It is the stiffness part that is important for stability. Think of the spine as a flexible rod that needs to be stiffened to bear load. This is the role of the muscles. When the core fails to meet the stability demands placed on the body during a certain lift, parts of the spine will be overloaded with forces that increase injury risk and performance will suffer.
Stuart Mcgill’s research has shown that isometric exercises to enhance muscular endurance are far superior when compared to dynamic strengthening exercises in enhancing spinal stiffness and stability (making them ideal not only for rehabilitation of back injuries but also in the training and enhancement of athletic performance). Dynamic strengthening e.g. the conventional crunch in times of back pain can be of detriment due to repetitive flexion which loads structures like your discs suboptimally, causing pain in cases.
Why you need to be an active participant in your recovery.
Another misperception people have is that allied health practitioners can fix everything solely through manual therapy consultations. In reality both the practitioner and patient play an equal role on the road to recovery. I.e. an exercise regime contributes drastically to your recovery and maintenance not just the treatment itself. Not being an active participant can lead to delayed recovery and longer prognosis periods. The benefits of taking control of your own health include reduced pain levels, faster recovery times which is also linked to improved psychological health.
The Mcgill 3
For those in lower back pain, these 3 isometric exercises can help stabilize your spine through strengthening the core as mentioned above.
Modified curl up
Step 1: Lie on your back with one knee bent and the other straight. If you currently have pain that radiates down one leg, flatten that leg out against the ground. Place your hands under your low back (this will ensure your spine remains in a neutral slightly arched position during the next step).
Step 2: Pick your head off the ground only a few inches and hold that position for 10 seconds. If you’re resting your head on a pillow, imagine it as a scale and lift your head off of it only enough to make it read “zero” on the dial or screen.2 The goal is to perform this curl-up without any movement in the low back! If you raise your head and shoulders too high (like a traditional curl-up or crunch) your low back will round and excessive forces will be transferred to the spine that could increase your symptoms.
Step 3: After a 10 second hold, relax your head back down to the resting position.
The side plank is a unique exercise as it activates the lateral oblique and QL muscles on only one side of the body, making it an excellent choice for addressing weak links in stability while placing minimal forces on the spine.
Step 1:Lie on your side with your legs bent and upper body supported through your elbow. Place your free hand on your opposite shoulder.
Step 2: Raise your hips so that only your knee and arm support your bodyweight.
Step 3: Hold this position for 10 seconds before returning back down. Perform the same descending pyramid rep-scheme for each side.
Step 1:Assume an ‘All 4’s’ position (quadruped) with your back in a neutral alignment. Remember a ‘neutral’ position is a very slight arch and not completely flat.
Step 2:Without allowing any movement to occur at the low back, kick one of your legs backwards while simultaneously raising the opposite side arm until both extremities are fully straightened. A helpful cue to make sure the leg movement doesn’t create an over-arching of your back is to think about kicking the heel of your foot straight back.
Step 3:Hold each extended pose for 10 seconds before returning back to the starting All 4’s position.
Ghorbanpour, A., Azghani, M. R., Taghipour, M., Salahzadeh, Z., Ghaderi, F., & Oskouei, A. E. (2018). Effects of McGill stabilization exercises and conventional physiotherapy on pain, functional disability and active back range of motion in patients with chronic non-specific low back pain. Journal of physical therapy science, 30(4), 481–485. https://doi.org/10.1589/jpts.30.481