Over the last year, we’ve all had to adapt to a new normal. Face masks have become an everyday staple. Our homes have had to function as offices and classrooms. And our social interactions have been limited primarily to pods and virtual hang outs.
Now, over a year since the pandemic started, change is upon us once again. As vaccine eligibility and access expands across the U.S., economies and businesses are reopening, and many people are preparing to return to their pre-pandemic lives and once again, adapt to a new routine.
But just because lockdown restrictions are loosening, doesn’t mean you have to abandon all the lifestyle changes you’ve adopted over the last year. In fact, many of these new habits may even benefit your long-term health. Here are some healthy habits we’ve embraced this last year that we should retain long beyond the COVID-19 pandemic:
Habits To Keep
1. Enjoying Nature
With event cancellations, restaurant closures, and limited options for socializing, many Americans have found refuge in the outdoors. Around the world, park and trail usage, as well as outdoor recreational activity, increased significantly this past year, as people turned to nature for a change in scenery and as an opportunity for social activity. While it may have taken COVID-19 for people to get outdoors, enjoying nature shouldn’t be limited to the pandemic. A growing body of research has found that time in nature can lower blood pressure, boost immune system function, reduce stress, improve concentration, increase happiness, and elevate mood. One study, for instance, found that people who spent at least 120 minutes outdoors each week, reported better health and a greater sense of wellbeing compared to those who did not spend time in nature. So as things slowly start to reopen and your days get busier again, continue to make time for fresh air, even if it’s just a quick walk around the block or lunch outside.
2. Prioritizing Self-Care
While the pandemic has been challenging in many ways, it has also given us the opportunity to take a step back from our hectic and busy lives and slow down. With empty social calendars and nowhere to go, we’ve had time to prioritize ourselves in a way the pre-pandemic world never allowed time for. For some, this has meant taking up meditation and yoga, while for others it has meant journaling and relaxing with a good book. Mindfulness and self-care shouldn’t just be a luxury of our newfound free time though. Even as your calendar starts filling up again, it’s important to listen to your body and take time for yourself. Investing in yourself, whether it be through a healthy diet, gratitude journal, or digital detox, can boost your energy, productivity, and prevent burnout.
3. Learning New Hobbies
While stuck at home, many of us also found ourselves with a lot more downtime than usual. From experimenting with new recipes and making sourdough starters to knitting and gardening, we found new creative ways to kill the time. Some people took on new hobbies altogether, while others refreshed old skills. These activities have been a good reminder of how important it is to do something just for fun. Amid hectic work and school schedules, it can be easy to get caught up in the stress of daily life and focus solely on the things that are going to advance us in our career, academic, or personal lives. Research shows, however, that taking time to engage in leisurely activities may boost our physical and mental well-being, as it is associated with reduced stress, lower blood pressure, and positive mood. Many hobbies also challenge our mind and can improve creativity. This mental stimulation can help with our memory, decision-making skills, and focus.
4. Cooking at home
One hobby in particular that has seen a surge in popularity this past year is cooking. According to the food industry association, FMI, 41% of Americans reported cooking more during the pandemic. A survey by sales and marketing agency, Acosta, likewise found that 35% of consumers had discovered a new passion for cooking over the course of the last year. While much of this new found interest can be attributed to a lack of safe opportunities to eat out, it should be a habit we keep even as things open back up. Those who cook at home are more likely to consume fewer calories than those who do not, and typically have a healthier diet. Whether you realize it or not, restaurant foods are usually made with high amounts of sugar, salt, butter, oil, and other additives. When you cook at home though, you can more easily watch your calorie intake and can control the ingredients, as well as portion size.
5. Connecting with friends and family
The pandemic may have interfered with our social activities, but it didn’t stop us from connecting with family and friends. Stay at home orders forced many of us to spend more quality time with roommates and family members in our own households, but it also gave us the time to reach out to those we had not spoken to or seen in a while. Suddenly, many people found themselves calling distant relatives of old college roommates just because they had actually had the time to. Likewise, people got creative with ways to connect with their loved ones virtually, from group Zoom calls to virtual happy hours and online games. These connections don’t need to end with the pandemic. As workplaces reopen and schedules get busier, it’s important to make time for your loved ones, whether it be a quick phone call or monthly Zoom catch up. Fostering these social connections can enrich your life, give you a sense of belonging and purpose, and help you feel happier in the long run.
Habits To Ditch
1. Increased Alcohol Consumption
From virtual happy hours to quarantinis, Americans have increasingly turned to alcohol to cope with the boredom and stress of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a recent study published in JAMA, alcohol consumption among adults rose 14% between 2019 and 2020. Meanwhile, a study by researchers at USC found that between April and June of last year, alcohol sales increased 34% from the same period in 2019. While the occasional glass of wine or beer may not have an extreme impact on your health, excessive alcohol can lead to chronic diseases and other serious problems, including heart disease, stroke, liver disease, weakening of the immune system, depression, anxiety, and certain cancers. It’s important to be mindful of your drinking habits to protect both your physical and mental health. Drinking less can elevate your mood, boost your productivity, and help you stay energized and motivated. Learn more about cutting back your alcohol consumption here.
2. Mindless Scrolling
Social media use has also increased over the last year. A recent Harris Poll survey found that 51% of adults reported using social media more since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. While social media has been a great way for us to stay connected after months of social distancing, it has also led to doom scrolling — the act of mindlessly scrolling through bottomless negative news and social media posts, despite the fact that it’s depressing. Constant consumption of such content can reinforce negative feelings and has been linked to anxiety and depression. Likewise, social media use can trigger feelings of social isolation and sadness, as many people compare themselves to others on these platforms. If endless scrolling leaves you feeling anxious, depressed, and overwhelmed, it may be time to take a break and unplug. Set aside a certain part of the day specifically for news consumption and give yourself a time limit. Some social media platforms even allow you to create those boundaries within their apps.
3. TV Binges
Between “Tiger King” and “Bridgerton”, there has been an endless stream of new content to watch over the pandemic. Though these shows can provide great comfort and an escape from reality, uncontrolled binge-watching can harm your health. For one, the sedentary lifestyle of watching TV and the lack of physical activity that comes with it has been linked to numerous poor health outcomes, including obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. On top of that, people tend to eat mindlessly, snacking on unhealthy foods and consuming larger portions than normal. This can further increase risk of obesity or diabetes. While you may want to go through a whole season of a new show you just started, it’s important to break up your day with physical activity. Take a stretch break between each episode or go on a short walk. You can even watch a show on the treadmill or elliptical. And if you feel like snacking, try something healthy like carrots or grapes.
4. Stress or boredom eating
One of the biggest comforts in times of uncertainty or stress is food. With everything going on in the world, you may have found yourself turning to food to cope, or even just out of boredom if you’re stuck at home with the kitchen always just a few steps away. It’s natural in an unprecedented time like this to find comfort in small things like food, but unhealthy eating habits, if left unchecked, can worsen your physical and mental health. Practice mindful eating by asking yourself whether you are truly hungry or if there is another reason you are turning to food. If the reason is emotional, identify other ways you can tackle these feelings. You might find that practicing some self-care, like taking a bath or exercising can help.
5. Unstructured work days
Over the course of the pandemic, millions of Americans found themselves working from home for the first time. Without needing to commute though, it has been hard for many to establish a clear start and stop to their workdays. According to data from NordVPN Teams, the average workday has increased by more than two hours a day since employees started working remotely amid the pandemic. Leaving work behind may feel impossible when it’s all taking place at home, but now more than ever, it’s important to set boundaries and clearly defined working hours. Turn your computer off at the end of your day and turn off notifications if you can. Clean up your work space and move to a different area of your home. You should also follow a consistent morning routine, which means getting dressed, taking a shower, and eating breakfast as you normally would. Learn more health tips for working from home here.
The One Medical blog is published by One Medical, a national, modern primary care practice pairing 24/7 virtual care services with inviting and convenient in-person care at over 100 locations across the U.S. One Medical is on a mission to transform health care for all through a human-centered, technology-powered approach to caring for people at every stage of life.
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