If we’re spending most of the next few months inside, it won’t help any of us to emerge from our cocoons fatter, weaker or less fit and healthy. In fact, good health will be a great asset.
Even without a pandemic on the doorstep, these four areas are important every year to build our resistance as we head towards winter. This year, of course, the context is ramped up considerably.
Number one, get more sleep. Not having to be anywhere in particular in the morning isn’t a good reason to abandon all discipline around going to bed.
Well-rested women eat, exercise and manage stress better.
There’s a lot to adapt to right now but be intentional about settling your mind before bed. If it’s in worry mode, writing down your thoughts takes them out of your head.
The antidote to worry is action, so come up with one thing you can do to address your concern, then set it aside.
If you know you need to get more sleep than you currently do, try increasing it gradually — in increments of say, 15 minutes, and give yourself time to adjust each time.
Number two, eat well. Don’t fall into the trap of endless snacking and grazing or keeping sweet foods handy because life’s challenging and you ‘deserve’ them.
This’ll be the second time I’ve used the word ‘discipline’, but those of us who eat or drink to relieve boredom or stress need to take ourselves in hand and find an alternative now.
The way we eat influences our immunity. Since much of our immune system lives in our gut, we need plenty of good gut bugs.
Simply because we’re older those good bugs mightn’t be as abundant as they used to be, and they can be depleted by some medications or a tad too much alcohol.
So skip the processed food in lieu of the most nutritional fare you can manage, e.g. vegies, healthy fats and good quality proteins.
Fermented foods or probiotic supplements can help. Chemist Warehouse sells a good, reasonably priced brand called Life Space, and one of the product lines is targeted to the over-60s.
Prebiotic fibre feeds your good bugs too. It’s found in food such as the onion family, lentils and chickpeas, asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes and psyllium.
Of course, if you have particular gut issues, honour them. Fibre isn’t great for everyone.
Antioxidant-rich herbs and spices like ginger, garlic, chili, cinnamon, turmeric and oregano are also good medicine.
While the evidence on vitamin C keeping away colds and flu isn’t wildly convincing, there’s still a lot to be said for the nutritional benefits of foods such as tomatoes, capsicum, broccoli, citrus or berries.
Now is a good time to hunt through your recipe collection and find dishes to add to your repertoire over the next few months. Include a few soups.
Speaking of soup, eating well also means staying well hydrated. Drinking enough water. Water, not endless tea and coffee. And not iced water. Add a scrap of lemon and honey or slices of ginger to make it more palatable if you need to.
When you feel like snacking have a glass of water instead. A well-hydrated body works better and has way more energy.
What about immune boosting supplements? If you have something you swear by, use it. Otherwise, there’s olive leaf extract and I like the Fusion brand products.
Finally, make sure your vitamin D levels are healthy. We should all be mindful of that year-round because vitamin D helps to resist viral and bacterial infection. But don’t rush out and buy a supplement if you haven’t had your level tested; it’s not something to take ‘just in case’.
Number three, of course, is exercise. Exercise also improves immunity, so think about how you can stay active over the coming months.
Make it doable though. For example, if you’re going to watch a show, do some stretches while you watch.
If you have stairs in your house set a target of walking x-number each day. I live near a decent hill, so I’m going to scale up that.
Practice your single-leg balance while you brush your teeth or wait for the jug to boil.
Owning a dog is a bonus, but otherwise you could stride around the block (if we can still do that) or do a set of squats before each meal.
If you love yoga, pick a few postures to do before breakfast.
Pop on some music and boogie round the lounge room. Or just get out in the sunshine and do some gardening.
If you’re used to attending a regular exercise class but you can’t do that now, find a virtual one. Or make a list of exercises you’d normally do that you could do at home and do, say, three or four a day at a certain time.
You get the drift. Just don’t spend hours sitting around.
You could create a little game each week with a friend. Commit to what each of you is going to do and hold each other to account. It’ll be better for your waistline than overdosing on Netflix and biscuits.
Number four is reducing stress. I’ve written a whole post this month on the need for calm and relaxation, so I won’t dwell on it here.
But there’s nothing like stress to put your immunity on the skids and given that the year to date has included fires, floods and a pandemic, there’s plenty of fuel out there.
If you’re in the habit of starting your day with social media or news updates, ask yourself whether that works for you. We’re all different and this might be another area where we need discipline.
If you’re feeling concerned, talk it over with someone who’s level-headed, rather than someone prone to drama or panic.
And remember that a few slow, deep breaths will always soothe your nervous system.
There’s an endless amount of internet content aimed at keeping us connected and positive through this period, but we’ll all need to manage our screen time.
Of course, there’s an upside to being at home. We’ve got an opportunity for all kinds of projects, learning something new, or simply catching up on things we haven’t gotten around to. You know, that tower of books beside the bed or the downstairs cupboard.
We’re also lucky to live in an age when we have multiple ways of staying in touch with friends and family.
While this time is reinforcing how much we rely on each other, we also have a vital job as individuals. That’s self-care.
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