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Fighting the "COVID 15" with fitness and nutrition

Students headed to college are often warned to avoid the dreaded “freshman 15.” The big lifestyle disruptions that occur when moving away from home can result in less exercise and poor eating habits, then weight gain. But people around the country have experienced major lifestyle disruptions in the past few months because of COVID-19, and it’s left many wondering how to reverse the “COVID 15.”

According to experts at Community HealthCare System, now is a good time to re-evaluate fitness and nutrition habits.

Start with what you’ve done right during a challenging time. Did you go for more walks outside or do more yard work when stay-at-home orders were in effect? Did you cook healthier meals at home? Not all changes in routine are bad, so pause to recognize your successes.

According to the American College of Sports Medicine, however, only about 26% of men, 19% of women, and 20% of children get enough daily exercise. Improving fitness leads to improved health and wellness.

Andrea Lutz, doctor of physical therapy and Community HealthCare System Rehabilitation and Fitness Manager, said important benefits of exercise include improvements in cardiovascular and respiratory function and decreased stress. Overall immune response is stronger in those who exercise regularly, too. This means that exercise can not only help people fight off infection better in general, but it can also help those who contract COVID-19.

“Exercise has also proven to decrease the development of severe respiratory complications associated with COVID-19,” Lutz said. (Read more from Lutz about CHCS Fitness Centers.) 

What about eating habits? Although people are likely eating more home-cooked meals right now, increased stress associated with COVID-19 may also cause us to indulge in emotional eating. But mistakes can be a learning experience, and looking at the big picture is crucial when building or rebuilding healthy habits.

“If you have eaten worse during quarantine, know that you can do better. If you did better, know that you can incorporate some of those changes as things get back to normal,” said Holly Schmitz, registered dietitian at Community HealthCare System.

Schmitz said looking for balance is best. “If you ate half a pizza for lunch, then eat a light salad for supper. Learn from your mistakes, and remember that life happens and we don’t always make the right decisions. Focus on balancing out over time—maybe a month at a time—so if you take a few days off, get back on track as soon as you can,” Schmitz said. 

Lutz and Schmitz offered several other tips.

  • Move more by parking farther away from the store or getting up 15 minutes earlier than usual to add dedicated time for exercise to your day.
  • Find what motivates you. Is it making sure your favorite shorts fit? Do you want to make sure you can play and run with your kids or grandkids? Use that motivator to help set and reach goals.
  • Change your routine! Take a walk on your lunchbreak or in the evening. Find out about local fitness center options, or download a new app. Try eating a salad at lunch or for supper instead of a full meal.
  • Find a support person who is willing to hold you accountable for your efforts in fitness, nutrition, or both. Share your goals and plan, then check in regularly.
  • Don’t deprive yourself of your favorite things. Stay on track, but have a day of the week or month when you can have them. In the meantime, find healthy alternatives such as yogurt for ice cream or vinaigrette for ranch dressing.

The most important thing is to keep trying. “We all have our struggles, but we have to do our best to stay focused on what is best for us and on our health. No one else can do it for us,” Schmitz said. 


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