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3 ways to stay healthy in a pandemic (and beyond)

Written by Michael Cao | Tuesday, 9 June 2020

tips and advice

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a significant and rapid change in the way we live our lives.

For many of us, we have had to quickly come to terms with having to work from home, lack of physical contact with loved ones, juggling home schooling for our kids or studying away from a campus setting and balancing the increased stresses associated with employment uncertainty and financial insecurity. All of these elements can have a profound effect on our physical and mental health.

Below are a few things that we can do to look after ourselves and help us keep an optimistic frame of mind during this challenging and difficult time.

1. Keep physically active

Due to restrictions designed to stop the spread of COVID-19, many of us may be stuck at home, sitting more and forgetting our activity routine thereby leading to a more sedentary lifestyle. It is often harder to keep physically active as much as we would normally because of a lack of access to gyms and the outdoors. Indirect physical activity is reduced due to no longer a need to commute to work and a decrease in running errands.

Regular exercise is beneficial for the body and the mind. It reduces blood sugar levels, helps control weight and is protective against chronic conditions such as heart disease, type-2 diabetes, cancer and osteoporosis. Physical activity improves sleep, reduces stress and anxiety and boosts mental health by keeping in check depression, cognitive decline and dementia.

Try setting achievable goals on activities that you enjoy doing. This can be achieved by creating an exercise routine/schedule, monitoring activity and progress and getting support from friends and family. Make sure that you take regular breaks from sitting and find 30 minutes of exercise each day. For some motivation, check out the Find Your 30 campaign.

2. Eat a health balanced diet

Consuming a healthy diet is important to support our immune system to prevent, fight and recover from infections, including COVID-19. Healthy eating also reduces the risk of other health problems such as obesity, type-2 diabetes, cancer and heart disease.

Eat lots of fresh fruit, vegetables and wholegrains, cut back on processed and sugary foods such as fizzy drinks, cakes and chocolate, reduce salt intake to one teaspoon a day and avoid salty sauces and condiments, replace butter/ghee with healthier fats and oils such as olive/sunflower oil, and stay hydrated by drinking lots of water (2.5-3 litres daily). SuperCook is a helpful website that allows you to view a number of recipes depending on the ingredients you have on hand.

Avoid excessive alcohol use. Alcohol does not protect against COVID-19 and can increase the risk of injury, liver damage, heart disease and exacerbate mental illness.

3. Look after your mental health

The pandemic has forced many of us to have to quickly adapt to lifestyle challenges and uncertainly in a changing world. There is fear and anxiety about contracting the virus, worrying about those close to us that are vulnerable, and there is added stress about our financial security and personal relationships. This can be particularly difficult for those with existing mental health conditions.

Starting and maintaining a routine will help you look after yourself, be productive and encourage a positive frame of mind. Get up, eat and sleep and exercise at the same time each day and take regular breaks. It is important to take care of your personal hygiene, eat healthily, exercise regularly, allocate time for working and rest and do things that you enjoy.

Tip: Adults needs about 7-9 hours of sleep each night. Try to reduce screen time closer to bedtime as the blue light from devices can suppress melatonin making it harder to sleep.

Limit media coverage that may be non-stop and upsetting. Try to minimise newsfeeds that make you feel anxious/distressed and try to focus on positive, hopeful or inspiring stories. Focus on credible sources such as the information found on the Australian Government coronavirus website.

Stay in touch with friends and family on the phone or via video calling, support health and other essential workers, and helping those in need in the community by volunteering.

Keep regular contact with your GP and other healthcare professionals. Take any medications as prescribed and reach out for help if your mental health declines. If you feel overwhelmed and need extra support, contact Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636 or Lifeline on 13 11 14.

It is important that you limit any alcohol or drug use and do not use these substances to deal with how you are feeling (i.e. fear, anxiety, boredom). Remember alcohol doesn’t protect or treat COVID-19 and can increase the risk of infection and worsen mental health.

By maintaining healthy habits, we’ll be happier and healthier well beyond the pandemic.

Michael Cao

Michael Cao is an experienced healthcare manager with a demonstrated history of working in senior leadership roles in Government, public and private hospitals, community primary care and the wider health industry. Skilled in Public Health Policy Development, Poisons Information, Health Education, Patient Care, Clinical Governance, Health Leadership and Patient Safety. Strong healthcare services professional with a dual Masters of Health Management (MHM) and Public Health (MPH) focused in Health Service Management from UNSW Australia.

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