After a year of turning our lives upside down, the coronavirus pandemic finally appears to be ebbing. Mass vaccinations and plummeting infection rates suggest a new day is about to dawn.
If so, it’s happening not a moment too soon. Americans have suffered greatly during the pandemic — both physically and emotionally — according to a new study from the American Psychological Association.
The study found that among U.S. adults:
- 61% have experienced undesired weight changes
- 67% are sleeping either more or less than they want
- 23% are drinking more alcohol
So, chances are good that you are among the millions who need to do a little repair work before getting life back to normalcy.
Whether it is returning to an exercise routine or breaking bad eating habits that emerged during the pandemic, a slow and steady approach is crucial.
“Don’t make the mistake of jumping right back to where you left off,” says Lauryn Mohr, a personal trainer and Senior Metabolic Specialist at Life Time Omaha. “This is the perfect time to go back to the fundamentals.”
Return to Normalcy Strategies
The APA study found that among people who gained weight, the typical gain was about 15 pounds.
Kaleigh McMordie, a registered dietitian nutritionist and blogger at Lively Table, says many people have turned to comfort food to tame stress, anxiety, boredom and loneliness.
“The past year has been stressful and full of uncertainty for all of us,” she says.
The en masse move of workers from offices to home offices also likely contributed to weight gain, says Rachel Begun, a registered dietitian nutritionist, executive coach and wellness culture expert.
“Sitting at our computers all day long makes us more sedentary,” she says. “You’d be surprised how the light activity expended while getting ourselves to the office and walking between meetings can add up to make a big difference.”
If you have gained a few pounds during the past year, McMordie urges you not to be too tough on yourself.
“It doesn’t make you a bad person or a failure if you’ve gained weight, it makes you human,” McMordie says. “Feeling guilty or ashamed can keep you trapped in a binge-restrict cycle.”
She says the best way to get back on track is to stay present, paying close attention with how you feel, both physically and emotionally. Notice what your body needs — from rest to a specific type of food — and respond accordingly, she adds.
Begun adds that as life begins to open up again, it is the perfect time to build new habits. She suggests starting by eating meals away from your desk.
“When we eat in front of a screen we are distracted from the sensory experiences of eating and registering our feeling of fullness, both of which can leave us unsatisfied and more likely to overeat,” Begun says.
Getting fit again
The pandemic forced millions of people out of their gym routines. Some began exercising from home, but many simply stopped exercising.
If you plan to return to a fitness regimen, Mohr suggests taking things slow. Begin by setting up a workout schedule that includes strategically placed recovery days.
“Aim for workouts on Monday, Wednesday, Friday — with a full recovery day in between for the first two to four weeks — before adding more to avoid injury from doing too much, too soon,” she says.
She suggests focusing on using bodyweight movements with a slower tempo, or isometric holds to build strength and stamina before hitting the heavy weights again. Examples include:
- Plank holds
- Slow-tempo push-ups
- Walking lunges
- Wall squat holds
“It’s a humbling way to add intensity with a lower risk of injury,” she says.
If you’ve been working out at home and now are returning to the gym, it is easy to get excited and overzealous about having access to more equipment and weights, Mohr says.
But she notes that even seasoned athletes practice the basics day in and day out. Mohr suggests choosing just one or two machine-based exercises for the upper body. Then, do the same for the lower body.
“Instead of comparing yourself to where you used to be, use this as a time to challenge yourself to use perfect form or re-learn movements without the pressure of how much weight you’re using, how fast you’re moving,” she says.
Taking such an approach allows you to add more weight and repetitions slowly instead of “‘going big’ your first week back and having to scale back due to soreness or injury,” Mohr says.