At the time of writing this the UK is in lockdown and it looks like we could be in some state of quarantine for the next 2 months if not longer. With everything that’s going on it can be tempting to lock yourself away, sit on the sofa binge watching Netflix and eat all the snacks you can stockpile. But this is a time to be at your best, and with a bit of focus you can even come out of the quarantine fitter, stronger and healthier than you went in. For me, health & fitness encompasses everything from nutrition to stress to sleep, as well as your levels of movement and exercise. Below are my top tips for making it through the quarantine fit and healthy, touching on some of these areas.
1. Hold yourself to a daily routine
With the change of your usual daily structure you can lose your sense of time. Days blend into each other and the weekend doesn’t feel very different from the weekdays anymore. While it’s tempting to keep your pyjamas on all day or to fall into different sleeping or eating patterns, at times like this it’s important to rely on a routine that you can hold yourself too. Getting up at a regular time, eating your usual breakfast and doing what you usually do will positively affect mental health and keep your stress levels down. Some people have gone as far as detailing every 30 minutes from morning to night, and if that works for you then great. Others start with a rough plan, but the important bit is that they have a plan and aren’t freestyling it every morning. Start with the basics which for me are wake up time, working hours, free time, and bed time. My current routine looks like this:
7:30 wake up & breakfast
8:30 – 12:30 work
12:30 – 1:30 lunch and walk
1:30 – 6:00 work
6:00 – 7:00 exercise
7:00 - 11:00 dinner and relax
Yours will look different, the key thing is to have a plan and hold yourself to it
2. Control your portion sizes
In one of my previous blog posts I talked about the importance of calories. If you’re gaining weight it’s mostly because you are consuming more calories than you are burning, and if you’re losing weight it’s mostly because you are consuming less calories than you are burning. Think of it like a set of scales with everything you eat and drink on one side and all your exercise amnd daily movement on the other side. Most of you will be burning less calories than usual in the coming weeks and months simply because you aren’t moving as much as before. It might not seem like much but all the daily walking, cooking, cleaning, shopping, commuting and even small movements such as fidgeting add up to a large number of calories burned over a week. With most of us now homebound, that activity will drop which means we need to eat less to balance the equation and prevent weight gain. One of the rules I use with my clients to regulate their calorie intake is to eat slowly and stop eating every meal or snack when they are 80% full. This works regardless of your activity levels because you will be less hungry when you have been moving less, which means you reach that 80% number faster. This also requires being present when you eat and paying attention to your body’s hunger levels so it helps to eat at the table without distractions. Eating on the sofa, while watching TV, or otherwise distracted is likely to mean you eat more than your body needs which results in weight gain. It sounds easy but it requires willpower, and that routine I talked about above.
3. Eat at least 5 portions of colourful fruit and veg per day
This one may not be a surprise, your grandparents probably told it to you for years. Both fruits and vegetables are rich in antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients which boost your immune system, help with recovery after exercise and increase your energy levels. Because they have a high water and fibre content, they help you digest better, and are low in calories relative to their volume which helps control your appetite. Prioritise vegetables first, the more the better, and get as many different types, varieties and colours in as you can. After that aim for 1-2 portions of fruit per day and again have different types of fruit. Always choose a natural, unprocessed piece of whole fruit ahead of juices, smoothies or dried fruits which have less nutrition value but are easier to over-consume. There has been a lot of stockpiling of rice and pasta recently and I’m predicting a lot of quarantine related weight gain as a result of all these carbs being munched. You’ll do much better if you have mostly protein and veg based meals, and focus your carb sources like rice, pasta and potatoes around the times of the week that you exercise.
4. Move as much as possible
Without my walk to the train station in the morning, my daily commute, going up and down stairs at work my step count has reduced by around 3,00-4,000 steps per day. While it might not seem it, all those little bits of activity can really add up over the course of a week and we burn more calories through this everyday movement than any formal exercise. Now more than ever it’s important take every chance you can to move around – stop work every couple of hours to have a stretch and find excuses to walk or move around the house. If you are making lots of phone calls during the day, use headphones and walk around while you talk. Take a daily brisk walk outside (which also gets you a hit of Vitamin D and helps with stress levels), and if you can aim for 10,000 steps per day. This will be good for your calorie balance as well as your mental state.
5. Exercise 2-4 times per week:
I’ve intentionally left exercise to last. The reason for that is that if you haven’t got your nutrition in check or aren’t moving enough, then the last thing you need is to add additional stress to your body through exercise. Make sure you are ticking everything else off the list first and think of exercise as the icing on the cake.
The good news is that if you have been training regularly until now you aren’t going to lose all your gains in a couple of weeks of lower activity, and probably won’t lose much over months of little exercise. It can be tempting to “give up” for a few months because the gym is closed but that doesn't need to be the case. At times like these your approach to exercise shouldn’t be too complicated – if you’re doing a back and shoulders day, a leg day, a glute day, a HIIT day then you are probably overthinking it. The unsexy truth is that, when it comes to health and fitness, consistency matters far far more than motivation or willpower. You will get much better results walking 30 minutes every day for 6 months than trying CrossFit for a week and then giving up. My recommendation is to do some sort of full body exercise routine a few times a week. Pick something you actually enjoy; that might be doing a run with some pushups and ab crunches, a circuit workout, going online for yoga with Adrienne or PE with Joe Wicks. But (this is the important part), whatever you go for, do it consistently, week in, week out until the quarantine ends.
A nice mix I use with my clients is 2-3 full body resistance workouts per week then 1 or 2 runs on top to get the heart rate going, but again it’s whatever you can realistically do as any exercise is better than no exercise. I’ve recently posted 2 full body circuit workouts on the Step1 Fitness Facebook page that can be done at home, quickly, without any equipment. Both workouts target all the major muscles and include a bit of conditioning at the end. If you need some inspiration start there, aiming for 2-4 sets of each circuit depending on your fitness level and alternate between workouts 1 and 2 each week. If you find it too easy just let me know and I can suggest some exercise progressions to make it tougher. For most of you, if you just do that and add in a walk or run at the weekend you will be 90% of the way there with your fitness by the Summer.
Have a go at some or all of these and let me know what you think. Believe me when I say it is possible to get even healthier and fitter despite being confined to the house most of the week. If you’ve enjoyed the article, comment, share, tag friends or get in touch if you need some help. If there is anything you want to know more about let me know and I’ll cover it in future blog posts.