Social isolation may be effective in combatting a viral pandemic, but that isn’t to say it doesn’t have health consequences of its own. Beyond the widely recognized health risks of physical inactivity, research has shown that isolation and chronic loneliness can raise a person’s risk of serious illness, both physical and mental. Add to that the health and financial stress many are facing and a seemingly constant influx of troubling news, and it’s clear we may be edging toward more than one public health crisis.
Although it can be difficult to break through the noise and prioritize our well-being during these challenging times, there are a number of simple and, in many cases, cost-free, ways to ensure we’re not neglecting critical aspects of our health while stopping the spread of the coronavirus. Here are a few of them.
Bring the Gym Home
The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity each week, or 30-minute increments five days per week. For many, hitting the gym or nature trail may not be as practical an endeavor as it once was, but exercise remains as important to our physical and mental health than ever.
Fortunately, virtual fitness has found its heyday in the age of COVID-19, and there is an almost overwhelming number of options for getting a great workout at home. Many commercial gyms are offering virtual classes and other wellness resources while facilities are closed, and YouTube has a multitude of free at-home workouts that require little to no equipment.
This moment of pause is also an opportunity to shake up your fitness routine and maybe even take that Zumba class you’ve always wanted to try. Not only has dancing been shown to improve brain health, but the thing about self-isolating is that you can actually dance like no one’s watching.
Make Video Calls With Friends & Family a Habit
An unexpected, albeit heartwarming, consequence of social distancing is that it may actually bring people closer together through the more frequent and widespread use of telecommunications tools. At a time when many are uncertain as to when they may be able to travel to see their loved ones, there can be something extremely comforting about catching up over FaceTime, Skype or any number of video chat platforms that exist today.
Studies have shown that the simple act of smiling can boost one’s mood and health, and there’s no one better for that job than those who know and care about us. Plus, scheduling regular catchups provides the opportunity to check on loved ones who may also be in need of support.
Limit Social Media & News
The era of COVID-19 also happens to be the era of information overload, which can be stressful in ways we may not even realize, especially for those of us with more time on our hands than usual.
While it is critical to stay informed, it is equally important to limit when, where and how we receive information. Social media in particular enables the easy and widespread exchange of news and commentary, which unfortunately also makes it ripe for misinformation and opinion that can fuel anxiety.
Apps that track or even block social media can help keep the use in check, while limiting news intake to just a few times a day can mitigate the torrent of information. For the most relevant, accurate public health information, consult reputable resources like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local health department sites.
Consider Fostering or Adopting a Pet
Until recently, the health benefits of pet ownership — and dog ownership, in particular — had been largely anecdotal. We’ve always known that dogs make us happy, but new evidence linking dog ownership to improved health is especially intriguing as the nation finds itself grappling with the side effects of social distancing — inertia, feelings of isolation and limited outdoor exposure.
In addition to getting us up and out for walks and games of fetch, it has been suggested that dogs may actually reduce loneliness and related health problems in vulnerable individuals. A study of patients 60 years and older found that pet owners were 36% less likely to report feeling lonely than non-pet owners. While many shelters may be closed or scaling back operations due to the strain of COVID-19, organizations like Adopt-A-Dog are still accepting applications and sending dogs to foster homes, so it may be worth a call to your local animal shelter if interested and able.
Know What You’re Feeling
It is important to realize that feelings of moderate stress and anxiety are normal during times of unrest, and that people in all areas of the world are experiencing a similar reality. However, if these feelings become overwhelming, it may be necessary to seek help from a mental health professional. Virtual therapy, which had been gaining ground prior to COVID-19, has expanded considerably in light of stay-at-home orders, allowing for easier access to mental health support.
Focusing on physical and mental health during today’s crisis may be easier said than done — and may require getting a little creative — but it is vital nonetheless. Taking the time to care for ourselves while caring for one another will undoubtedly help to create a brighter future once the pandemic has passed.