By Dr. Sasha High and Madeleine Ortiz
Stores, restaurants and other businesses are slowly beginning to reopen, but our lives are still going to look a lot differently than they did at the beginning of 2019. Vacation plans have been cancelled, schools and summer camps are closed and many of us are still going to be spending most of our time at home. It is a strange and stressful time that, according to Dr. Sasha High, medical director at the High Metabolic Clinic in Ontario, isn’t ideal for anyone. But she also says that this doesn’t mean we have to abandon our health goals. She offers eight of her favorite tips for staying healthy while staying at home… and afterwards too!
1. Give your day structure
When you’re home all day without many places to be, it is very easy to go on autopilot, warns Dr. High. That’s problematic because a healthy lifestyle is all about conscious control, or being aware of what, when and why you’re doing things. This is especially true when it comes to eating, she says. Don’t let yourself grab a snack each time you walk by your kitchen. Instead, Dr. High recommends building your daily schedule with clear eating times, activity times and rest times. Structure makes it easier to avoid all-day grazing and helps you feel grounded and productive during non-eating times.
2. Make sleep a priority
Getting good sleep is a tip that shows up again and again when it comes to a healthy lifestyle, but Dr. High says it’s especially important if you’re trying to manage your weight. Lack of sleep can worsen insulin resistance, increase hunger hormones and decrease our restraint in the face of cravings. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for people to have trouble getting the sleep they need. Dr. High recommends setting a consistent bedtime and wake up time, with a goal for lights out before 11p. This will help your circadian rhythm hormones and overall quality of sleep. If getting to sleep is your problem, she recommends trying a sleep or meditation app and ensuring good sleep hygiene (avoiding caffeine, maintaining a dark room, avoiding screen time). Taking a magnesium supplement before bed may also help improve sleep quality. It takes practice, but once you start getting into the routine of good sleep habits, you’ll notice the positive health effects on your weight, mood and energy levels.
3. Separate work life from non-work life
When stay-at-home guidelines like working from home first came out, Dr. High noticed that many of her patients were working from sun up to sun down. Going to an office automatically creates a boundary between work life and home life, but when you’re working from home, those boundaries start to become less clear. She suggests only working the hours you would normally work at your office – and doing your best to stick to it, even if it means setting an “end of work day” alarm on your phone. She also recommends having a separate area of your home for work if possible, and ideally away from the kitchen where food cues abound. Working all day, every day may seem productive, but it likely comes at the expense of other core life values, including health. Giving yourself a break from your work and taking time to enjoy favorite hobbies or family time are imperative for a healthy lifestyle.
4. Get outside
If you’ve ever struggled with a whiny, restless child, you likely have seen the benefits of a trip to the park or a romp in the backyard. Dr. High says these feel good, calming benefits of the outdoors are not just for children. No matter your age, everyone can benefit from fresh air. Even five minutes outdoors can increase feel-good hormones like dopamine and serotonin, improving your mood, increasing motivation and even boosting your self-esteem. Build outside time into your daily schedule. Whether it’s a morning walk or five minutes of bird watching on your lunch break, making a habit of getting outdoors will help keep you healthy and happy.
5. Prioritize physical activity
If you’re not feeling motivated to go for a run or do an online workout class, don’t fret. Organized exercise is awesome, but it’s not the only way you can reap all the benefits movement provides. Daily physical activity will deliver a lot of the same perks without all the structure. Dr. High created her own standing desk by placing a chair on top of her desk and setting her laptop in the seat. Standing all day helps her feel active and more engaged in her work. She also says it feels better for her body than sitting does. Try her DIY approach to a standing desk or set an alarm that reminds you to get up and moving at least once an hour. Take out your trash, vacuum your house, scrub your shower or just do a minute of jumping jacks. It doesn’t have to be complicated – as long as you’re making movement a priority, your body will be happy!
6. Find the positives
We don’t have to deny that we are feeling anxious or worried about our new normal, but Dr. High recommends we do our best to see the positives where we can. For example, it can be disappointing for birthday parties, family get-togethers and other social events to be cancelled, but if you’re someone who has struggled with sticking to plan while socializing, this can be a great opportunity to revamp the way you eat. It can be difficult to have children home all day every day, but perhaps you can view it as an opportunity to finally have time for family walks after dinner. There’s room for disappointment and positivity to exist in the same space, that’s life. Do your best to see the positive and take advantage of opportunities you might not have had before.
7. Have self-compassion
This pandemic has created unprecedented circumstances that the entire world is facing together. When it comes to health behaviours, there will be trial and error, good days and bad. It’s important to remember that this is a time for compassion toward yourself and others. If your eating hasn’t been on plan, or you haven’t had the motivation to exercise, be gentle on yourself and remember not to expect perfection. Offer yourself forgiveness and view mistakes as opportunities to learn and improve upon instead of as failures. The more compassion you can give yourself, the more quickly you can move past mishaps and start working toward your goals.
8. Identify your values
Your values are your internal drivers that help you decide what’s important to you in your daily life and beyond. They can keep you grounded when things feel discombobulated, and motivated when you’re feeling less than enthusiastic. Values are different from goals, explains Dr. High, “goals are outcomes that may or may not be accomplished, but we can live a fulfilled and meaningful life if we live in congruence with our values”. For example, Dr. High says she really values productivity and reminding herself of that helps her avoid mindlessly turning on the television or scrolling through social media. “It’s not that I never watch T.V.,” she says, “it’s just that I make sure it’s for a good reason that aligns with my values – like watching a movie with my kids.” If you’re struggling to come up with your values, Dr. High suggests imagining your best friend is being interviewed about you. Think about which three qualities you would want your friend to describe and use that as a jumping point for coming up with a few values (which may be specific to different life domains, like health, work, family and relationships). Then use your values to establish committed action and keep you motivated for living your best life.
Dr. High’s advice is a great way to get a jump start on getting healthy, but when it comes to good health and weight loss, these tips alone may not be enough for most people. Obesity and excess weight is a medical condition that usually requires support from a professional. Talk to your physician or check out our physician locator to find the assistance that’s right for you.