Greetings Healthy Boilers,
As we settle in to what is becoming a new normal, we are being challenged to work around a lot of different obstacles. Juggling an unusual work environment, homeschooling, childcare and lack of connection with others by themselves are no easy feat. However, coupled with more and more restrictions, feeling any semblance of normalcy can prove extremely challenging.
The importance of activity
As most Americans are currently under a stay-at-home order, access to gyms has been cut off and now even many government-owned parks and other gathering spaces are off limits. All of these things can add up to quite the barrier to getting in your activity. While it may often be easier to avoid it these days, getting in activity is important – more now than ever. As a reminder, here are some of the amazing benefits that physical activity has to offer:
- Stress relief
- Decreased blood pressure
- Improved blood sugar levels
- Weight loss
- Mental clarity
- Improved sleep quality
Yes, that’s right – longevity! According to Harvard Health, overweight or obese people who take part in leisure-time activity can add as many as four years to their lives compared with similar-weight who do no such activity. Going even further, the combination of activity coupled with a healthy body weight could increase longevity by as many as seven years. Seven! In case you needed any more reasons to increase your activity.
In the long term, another benefit that will filter down and impact future generations is that kids who grow up around healthy habits (such as physical activity), are more likely to sustain these habits and turn into healthier adults, who then instill healthy habits into their children – and the cycle of health perpetuates itself. Setting a good example for your children is a gift to the health of our society that will keep giving for decades – literally.
Setting a good example for your kids right now is paramount. Children and teens react, in part, to what they see from the adults around them. When we demonstrate calmness and confidence, our kids notice and react accordingly. Similarly, encouraging healthy behavior by example, especially in the face of an unusually stressful time, will beget a life of healthy behavior. Which is why it is so incredibly important to get and stay active right now!
This is a good place to note that there is definitely no one-size-fits-all version of exercise. According to the dictionary, exercise is “activity requiring physical effort, carried out to sustain or improve health and fitness.” Essentially, anything that gets your heart rate up for a prolonged period is considered exercise.
So, how can we go about making it happen despite the many hurdles we are facing within our current world climate?
Two key ingredients are required – creativity and, most importantly – enjoyment. Creativity because we are being forced to work around unusual conditions and spaces. And enjoyment because that is the foundation for the sustainability of any activity we do, whether it is during a pandemic or not!
In order for any activity to stick, you must enjoy some aspect of it. Whether that is the anticipation leading up to the activity, the powerful feeling you have during it, the sense of accomplishment after it, the stress relief it provides or something else. No matter what aspect it is that resonates with you, without the enjoyment factor, an activity is bound to be short-lived.
Activities and the joy you can find
- Go for a walk or jog outside
Thankfully, outdoor exercise is still permitted, even under stay at home orders – however, be sure you follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) social distancing guidelines while you’re outside. And another bright spot? It’s spring so the weather is usually very nice for outdoor activities!
- Parts to enjoy: Much-needed alone time (or, conversely, some much needed time with another person if you exercise with a housemate), connecting with nature, regrouping, working up a sweat, organizing your thoughts, sun on your skin (Hello, Vitamin D! We’ve missed you!), an endorphin rush, better sleep that night.
There are a ton of free yoga streaming options out there. YouTube is a great outlet for this, alongside many teachers who are opting to put their classes online for now. Maybe you roll your mat out outside and enjoy a change of scenery!
- Parts to enjoy: De-stressing as you link breath with movement, building strength in a power practice, feeling a sense of calm after a yin (slow-paced with longer holds) practice, loosening tight muscles where you have been holding tension, a clearer headspace.
- Playing with the kids
Of course this can be a broad range of activities and will depend on the kids’ ages. Crawl around on the floor with your little ones, or, for the older ones, help them build a fort or design an obstacle course for them. The options are limitless!
- Parts to enjoy: Getting your heart rate up doing something that is not purposeful “exercise,” bonding with your kids in an environment that is fun for everyone, getting to know your kids better.
- Virtual RecWell – offered by Purdue Recreation & Wellness to Purdue employees, regardless of whether you have a membership or not. Virtual RecWell offers a weekly updated collection of video classes on group fitness, wellness and more. (Note: RecWell financial counseling, wellness coaching and nutrition consultations are for University students only.)
For more ideas, check out “Physical Activity in Times of Social Distancing.”
Don’t forget the calm factor
Additionally, while we are talking about ways to stay active, it’s just as important to stay calm. The less we allow stress to rule our thoughts and actions, the better off we will be. To help you find your calm, here are some ideas:
- Meditation – Even just a few minutes of sitting in silence can have a huge, positive impact on your parasympathetic (rest and digest) nervous system and help clear the mental clutter.
- Daily gratitude practice – Write down three things you are grateful for each day in a gratitude journal. This will serve the added benefit of keeping things in perspective as we trudge through this unprecedented time.
- Music – Music can have a powerfully calming effect. Maybe you find this effect with instrumental melodies, slower-paced tunes or even nature sounds.
- Body scan- Starting with the muscles in your forehead, try to notice and release any tension you may be holding from head to toe. Forehead, cheeks, jaw, shoulders, back, core, hips, legs, toes and everything in between. A physical release of that tension will go far in helping you relax.
- Yoga- A yoga practice does wonders to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system. Whether it is a slow flow, yin or power, the action of linking breath with movement helps us be in better control of our reactions and more thoughtful in our actions – things that are important always!
Fun for the kids
Activities for kids are, by nature, enjoyable. Since many people have had the same ideas for activities for their kids, a lot of supplies are hard to find right now. Here are some do-it-yourself options that can be made using common household items; follow the links below for more information.
- Playdoh – make your playdoh with cream of tartar or without.
- Slime – provide hours of fun with this quick and easy, three-ingredient recipe.
- Foam – create foam fun using three simple ingredients.
- Volcano experiment – bring STEM lessons home with volcano fun.
Try one of these with your kids, and see what new joys they can discover! Also, see the Purdue Human Resources “Working through COVID-19” website for additional kid-friendly activities, including youth conservation and at-home learning activities.
Enjoyment has always been and will always be key in the success of any lasting habit. During these times, activity can serve the added purpose of a much-needed bright spot in your day or week – no matter which part of it you enjoy. If you are willing to look for it, you will be able to find the joy. Find it, set a good example and share it. We can each do our part to heal the world and make it a better, more enjoyable place.
Be Kind. Be Well. Boiler Up!
Author: Madison Templeton, health coach, One to One Health
Purdue’s Center for Healthy Living on the West Lafayette campus is managed by One to One Health, a private, physician-led company.