After staying home for a month eating comfort food, we have heard the nervous jokes about putting on the “COVID 19,” those extra pounds like the “freshman 15” students are said to gain in college. With more weeks of sheltering at home to come, we need to be serious about exercise and healthy eating.
This is not just the usual advice to be fit for general wellness. We need to avoid gaining extra weight in order to avoid the underlying conditions of high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity which the Center for Disease Control warns could make infection with the coronavirus more severe .
In these uncertain times, we need to control what we can control, and we can control what we eat and how we exercise.
There are many reasons why we are under stress — including economic uncertainty, trying to meet client needs while working remotely or being in close quarters with your children or partner who are dealing with their own needs. That stress causes our body to crave high-calorie food to keep our blood sugar up as we stay on red alert under the “fight or flight” reflex.
We may also be eating more out of boredom while we binge watch season four of anything to keep us occupied while theaters and restaurants are closed and there are no live sporting event anywhere. It is no wonder that we are eating too many carbs, fats, and calories.
On the other side of the equation, we are not burning those calories. Sheltering in place, we are much less active than normal and are missing all the exercise that is normally built into our day just from commuting and walking around an office. With gyms closed, even if you have been diligent about following at home workouts from the internet, that is just a stop gap and after several weeks your body is adjusting and becoming more efficient, so you are burning fewer calories. It then becomes a matter of simple math, more calories eaten and fewer calories burned and your body stores the excess as fat. Gaining fat plus inactivity leads directly to developing the whole list of underlying conditions.
To counter this, we need to change both parts of the equation. It may take some effort and self-discipline, but it is certainly worth it. Just as you may wear a mask outside to protect others, you can take some simple steps to protect yourself.
First, improve your diet. Eat fewer empty calories such as snack and junk food. You can still give your body the energy it craves by eating fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Eat an apple while you are glued to Netflix. As an added bonus, the vitamins will boost your immune system.
Next, ratchet up your exercise. Go outside for a run or walk. Experts tell us that the coronavirus disperses in the wind, but you should still keep your social distance. If someone tries to pass you, let them. If you pass someone, give them a wide berth. If you run with someone other than one you live with, stay six feet apart and don’t huff and puff on each other when you are done.
You can also follow an outdoor exercise routine to build strength and raise your metabolism. There are many examples on line. A good routine is to run or walk, do some calisthenics, and then run or walk some more. Being active outdoors will also lower your stress level which will help curb your appetite. The exercise will also boost your immune system.
Being outside will improve your mood, as people feel better around nature and being in the sun will raise your level of vitamin D, which will also help your immune system. One caveat: if you are prone to allergies, see a doctor or take your antihistamines to reduce potential lung inflammation. Also, go outdoors early in the morning or in the evening, when pollen levels are lowest.
To make sure you exercise, schedule it in like you would a client videoconference. When it is time to exercise, exercise. There are no excuses.
As always, you should stay hydrated. Drinking water will improve your mood and your immune system. It will also make you feel fuller so you will not want to eat as much.
Make sure you adopt a regular sleep schedule and get seven and a half hours sleep a night, which has been found to reduce the chance of obesity. Do not stay up late binge watching television, as the blue light from the screen can affect the quality of sleep. Read a book before bed instead. Better sleep will reduce stress and improve your immune system.
If you eat better, sleep better, and exercise more, you will have more energy and a better outlook and be better able to deal with stress. You will also have a better chance of resisting the coronavirus or having a mild case. You spent three months studying for the bar exam. You can spend three months flattening the curve.
Robert Herbst is a member of NYSBA’s Task Force on Attorney Well-Being and chair of its Subcommittee on Attorney Physical Fitness and Health.