Here are some key areas where we can practice good self-care whether we’re stuck at home, or back to a new normal in our daily lives.
1. Move More: Exercise is essential for physical health. It can help you lose weight, decrease fatigue, and reduce your risk of chronic disease. Physical activity can also boost your mood, improve brain function, and decrease symptoms of depression and anxiety. You should aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity every day. This includes activities like brisk walking, hiking, and riding a bike. To learn more about the recommended guidelines for exercise visit health.gov.
In addition to general physical activity, exercises provided to you by your physical therapist can improve your quality of life. These exercises are chosen specifically to target your individual needs. They help decrease or eliminate pain, improve mobility, prevent falls, and can even prevent the need for surgery.
2. Rest Well: Many of us sit at a computer for multiple hours a day. This has negative effects on your body, even if you’re getting adequate exercise. Sitting all day, slouched over a keyboard, actually puts stress on your joints and muscles.
Taking a few five-minute breaks to step away from our screens, walk around a bit, can be beneficial. It reduces eye strain associated with prolonged screen time and helps your body adjust to natural circadian rhythms so you can shut everything off and actually rest at the end of the day. One suggestion could be to set an alarm to go off at certain times throughout the day to remind yourself to take a quick break.
3. Eat Better. Poor diet and dehydration can add to stress and fatigue, contribute to issues with blood pressure, and increase the risk of obesity and chronic disease. We all know this, or at least, most of us have heard this. But where do you begin to do something about it?
Try minimizing saturated fats, sugars, and salts and add more color to your diet. Colorful fruits and veggies provide a variety of nutrients with significant health benefits like improving eyesight or strengthening your immune system. Have some healthy snacks readily available to have throughout the day (maybe set your alarm to remind you to take a break and get a snack); snacks like whole fruits, nuts, and vegetables.
For water intake, know this. The average woman needs about 11 cups of water per day, compared to 15 cups for the average man. This might sound like a lot, but remember, your body is made up of 60% water. If drinking this much doesn’t seem possible, don’t worry, a significant portion of our daily requirement comes from food. Watermelon and cucumber for example, are almost 100% water by weight.
4. Practice Mindfulness: Mindfulness practices like deep meditation is another important part of maintaining good health. When practiced regularly, meditation can not only improve your mood and decrease stress and anxiety, it can also decrease pain and promote heart health.
You can also benefit from simply journaling and including a few things you’re thankful for at the beginning and end of your day or work routine. The habit of expressing gratitude is a great way to kickstart a healthy mindfulness practice into your daily life.
5. Sleep More: You might think we’re double-dipping here, and to be frank, we probably are. But rest and sleep are critical and slightly different. Rest is where you consciously take a break from your work and routines. Sleep is where you “power down” for several hours and allow your brain and body to subconsciously rest and repair itself.
Sleep is an essential part of life, but so many of us aren’t getting enough. As an adult, your body requires 7-8 hours of sleep to restore energy, repair cells, and regulate hormones. Consistently getting too little sleep increases the risk of developing conditions like heart disease, obesity, and depression. Try eliminating your afternoon coffee and avoiding screens an hour before bed to improve your sleep habits. Want more great ideas for getting quality sleep? Read this article from Harvard Medical School giving more suggestions for sleeping better.
If you’re doing all that you can and still having trouble sleeping, it would be a good idea to bring this up to your primary care physician or a physical therapist and let them help you figure out and treat your sleep issues
6. Deepen Connections: Humans are social beings, our brains are wired to connect. Social interactions help us cope with stress and the monotony of daily life, and loneliness has even been associated with heart problems and other diseases like dementia. As we age, it’s even more important to stay connected. Regular interaction with others can decrease the risk and slow the development of Alzheimer’s.
Make time for people who bring you joy! Call people up, plan an outing, or host a game night. When things are shut down and we’re practicing social distancing, you can still connect with others. FaceTime, Zoom, and What’s App are great ways to keep us connected in times like ours. But nothing can replace in-person, face to face interaction. When we’re able to do so, we all should make this more of a priority in our schedules.
7. Have More Fun: Making time to do something you love plays an important role in health. Laughing decreases pain, aids in muscle relaxation, and could improve heart and lung function. Petting a dog releases the body’s “feel-good” hormones and reduces those linked to stress.
Whether it’s playing an instrument, or simply being outside in nature, having something to look forward to can provide motivation during tough times.
So whatever it is you love to do, find time for it every day. Even a little time each day can do incredible things for your mental, physical, and even emotional health. And especially right now, we all need each other to be as healthy as possible.
Taking good care of yourself requires time and effort, but it is well worth it. After all, your return on investment is a happy, healthy life.