As many look for ways to stay calm in the midst of an unprecedented health crisis, a Michigan Medicine dietitian shares some helpful strategies for sheltering in place.
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Every day, we're waking up to a world that has become like a stranger to us. The stress of sheltering in place and fear of the unknown has left many of us stressed, socially isolated or just plain bored.
There's no denying it: Our lives have been turned upside down.
But there are things we can all do to help make these days better and to stay healthy, says Michigan Medicine dietitian Sue Ryskamp, who sees patients at the Frankel Cardiovascular Center. "Keeping yourself healthy includes heightened hygiene, exercise and eating right."
Ryskamp offers four tips to help get through these unprecedented times, no matter what your age.
1. Establish routines
Establishing daily routines is especially helpful with kids at home, but also for those who are now relegated to work from home or retirees who can't get out.
"The kitchen is a great place to get your day started with a routine," says Ryskamp.
"If you have kids, get them engaged in planning meals together each day. Have them create a plan for breakfast, lunch and dinner, with the goal of introducing healthy choices," says Ryskamp. Kids are more likely to gobble up the meals they've had a hand in creating, she says, like this favorite recipe of hers — Mexican stuffed sweet potatoes — which is simple and makes use of some of the items you might have in your pantry.
"Be sure to keep a running grocery list so you can get the things you need with one trip or one delivery," Ryskamp says.
This might also be the time to designate one night a week to order out. "Many restaurants offer delivery services or curbside pickup as a safety precaution," says Ryskamp. "And remember, your local restaurant owners need you now more than ever."
Connecting with the outside world is a good routine to establish, especially for those who live alone. Whether via computer or telephone, make it a point to reach out to others each day.
"A lack of socialization can be harmful to your mental and physical health and can have an impact on your immune system," says Ryskamp. "Stay connected with family and friends on a regular basis by scheduling online chats, happy hour (mocktails are acceptable!) or birthday celebrations."
And don't forget the importance of keeping a relatively consistent sleep routine, she says. "Now that we're homebound, it's ok to be a bit more flexible by sleeping an extra hour or so in the morning, but aim for seven to eight hours of sleep each night."
2.Think twice about what you're putting in your mouth – and why
While many of us are stressed beyond our limits, overeating can have a temporary calming effect. But temporary is the key word, says Ryskamp. "Without managing your eating habits during times of stress, you're more likely to put on unwanted weight."
Most important, she says, is the impact nutritious foods can have on your sleep, mood, energy level and immune system. "Incorporate whole foods and colorful fruits and vegetables and avoid sugary foods as much as possible."
Before opening that refrigerator door again, consider what you might do instead: Take the dog for a walk, work on a puzzle or call a loved one. For those who are on restricted diets for health issues such as heart disease or diabetes, these tactics can prevent you from swaying during these stressful times.
"Being mindful of why you're eating is a good way to combat the urge to eat out of boredom," says Ryskamp.
When you do go looking for a snack, make sure to have plenty of healthy options available. "A quarter cup of nuts, a piece of dark chocolate, air-popped popcorn, fruits and whole grain crackers with cheese are good choices," Ryskamp says.
While baking is a great way to keep yourself occupied, make sure you're not eating all those cookies or muffins at once. Freezing some of your goodies means you'll be able to enjoy them in the days or weeks ahead.
3. Ramp up your fluid intake
Now more than ever, Ryskamp advises drinking plenty of fluids to help keep your body hydrated and to flush out toxins.
"Some of the best choices are water, green tea with ginger or turmeric, clear soups and broths."
To boost your immune system, Ryskamp says immune support drinks can be beneficial. "Many of these provide vitamins A, C, D and Zinc, which are important to a healthy immune system."
If you experience a fever, water enhanced with electrolytes, like low-sugar sports drinks or Pedialyte, are recommended.
4. Move your body.
Getting plenty of exercise during these shelter-in-place days is vitally important — no matter what your age.
"Exercise can help boost physical, mental and emotional health and can help reduce stress, which can take a toll on our immune systems," says Ryskamp. She recommends checking out online exercise and yoga classes geared toward kids and adults. "Shoot for 30 to 40 minutes a day or longer, if possible."
For those unable to engage in rigorous workouts, try online chair classes. "One of my favorites," says Ryskamp, "is on YouTube and features Justin Timberlake's Can't Fight the Feeling."
To energize your day and help you de-stress at night, Ryskamp recommends online videos such as "7 Minutes of Magic."
She also recommends taking stock in your yard and getting it ready for the upcoming spring and summer planting season. "It's something positive to look forward to and you can even begin inside by ordering online garden kits and various seeds to get a jump start on the season."
With the weather warming up, now is a great time to get outside for some fresh air. "Take a hike with the kids or a friend — keeping in mind that social distancing needs to be practiced outside, too," says Ryskamp.
Those with health conditions such as heart issues or diabetes need to keep moving, too, says Ryskamp. "It doesn't have to be strenuous exercise. Take a walk to the mailbox or walk the dog. Just remember, it's important to stay active to enhance your wellbeing and your immune system. By staying active, you'll be able to do many of the things that bring enjoyment to your life."
Michigan Medicine healthcare professionals are available to our patients via telephone consultations by calling 888-287-1082.
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