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Re-Imagining Wellness

Dec 4, 2020, 11:07 AM by Peggy Merrill

Even in the best of times and with the best of intentions, Americans have historically had an on-again, off-again relationship with exercise, nourishing meals and self-care.

We start out with a well-thought-out and researched plan. We get the app, the shoes and the organic veggies. We schedule the workouts, throw out the junk food, invite a friend to join us and congratulate ourselves post-workout. We do all the right things, and we vow this time to stick with it and make our health a priority for life.

However, inevitably, a call to action from our family, work or life has us putting these plans on the backburner. The next thing we know, a month has passed, and we find ourselves looking at the same old habits that are wearing down our health and vitality. We may begin to wonder if positive change is even possible.

And then comes a pandemic…and like it or not we have to change. We have to adapt. 

We've all heard the jokes and complaints about weight gain and increased sugar and alcohol consumption this year. But what if, as a result of this pandemic, we have stumbled upon some new and improved ways of doing things that will increase the percentage of people who are able to make exercise, nourishment and self-care a consistent part of day-to-day life? Out of this chaos, some tools may have emerged along with a mindset that can produce some very favorable health outcomes. 

Here are some of the ways that we've made lemonade-flavored protein shakes out of the lemons of 2020 — and how these new habits will impact us long into the future.

Fitness Becomes More Flexible

female works out on floor in front of laptop

During the spring/summer of 2020, many of us learned to be “at-home exercisers.” We mastered the technology, procured the equipment and found our favorite online classes. We carved out the best place in our house to exercise and the best time of day to “get ‘er done.” We learned to listen carefully to the instructors’ cues, make our own technique corrections and listen to our bodies.

However, many of us also learned that we miss the camaraderie of our workout community, the motivation that comes from the live interaction with our favorite trainer/instructor, the music and energy of a live class and/or the complete package of our favorite fitness facility (ahem... like the Y).

A fitness routine for 2021 and beyond will likely embrace virtual, live, home and gym workouts. Depending on what is happening in your life, you will have many options that can flex and bend around the priorities of your day/week/month.  Today, you may want to head to the gym to relax and swim laps, but tomorrow you may find yourself lifting weights in your PJs before work. Essentially, the option to workout at the gym or at home gives you a strategy to address both the obstacles to exercise that come with traveling for work, caring for a loved one, boredom or time restrictions while also addressing the gaps in training that come from working out at home. 

During this pandemic, many of us have also learned to be outdoor exercisers — but found we missed our indoor workouts too. Many people naturally gravitated toward exercising outdoors. In doing so, they reconnected with nature while they walked, jogged or cycled for miles and miles.

group hikes up trail with hiking sticks

While discovering new loops and routes, equipment and strategies to facilitate their adventures, many also noted the mental and physical “oomph” that comes from exercising outdoors. All these efforts are an investment, which will pay dividends for years to come, especially for those who added a new family pet to the mix!

And yet, through this summer and fall, we were reminded that on occasion Mother Nature does not always cooperate with our exercise plans, and there are days we are well-served to stay indoors and attend to exercise needs on the elliptical in the basement, with a walk at the mall or by attending an indoor class at the gym. In the future, the narrative about exercise will be just as much about getting outside as going to the gym.

There will be days that are just too nice to stay inside and days that it will be too hazardous to be outside. The discussion around fitness and the recommendations will readily embrace both options.   

Serving Up More Home Cooking

father and son gaze into oven

It is a good bet we learned a thing or two about food and nutrition during this time, and perhaps we even got a little more skilled and creative in the kitchen. With restaurants closed, we may have had to find new strategies (or refine old strategies) to feed ourselves and our families. Perhaps we experimented with food budgets, meal planning, prepping and cooking. Maybe we learned a couple of new recipes or discovered some new options for take-out. Possibly we challenged ourselves with food projects, like making our own sourdough or cooking more from scratch.

Whatever the case, it is likely we ate at restaurants less frequently and ate at home more often. In doing so, it is also likely we also increased our consumption of fruits and vegetables while measurably cutting down on fat, salt and sugar for at least a few meals each week. Perhaps post-COVID, eating out will go back to being a “treat” and eating home-cooked meals and brown bag lunches will again be the norm. 

How Does Your Garden Grow?

garden bed with plants is watered with watering can

If we weren’t already growing a garden pre-pandemic, perhaps we took on the challenge of learning to grow things. Whether or not we successfully grew anything is not the point: We almost certainly learned something as we purchased seeds, started composting or stuck a shovel into some soil. Eating homegrown food, learning about how food grows and doing the physical work it takes to grow our own food sources are all ways to nourish our bodies, minds and spirits. Gardening is also an incredible way to help expand our kiddos' food world, allowing them to help grow their own food, understand the science and reap the rewards of their harvest.

And if you got a few delicious vine-ripened tomatoes along the way, even better. Perhaps many of us will continue to hone our gardening skills as we move forward. 

Mastering the Basics of Self-Care

During this time, we may have mastered some very mundane aspects of self-care and will serve us going forward. Most of us now have a Ph.D. in handwashing and covering our mouths when we cough or sneeze.

On top of that, perhaps the slower pace of the pandemic has allowed us to focus on making dental flossing, reading, meditating and skincare a part of our routines.

Your future self will thank you! 

Connections Count

During the pandemic, we have discovered new ways to connect with others. We may have found ourselves and others celebrating milestones on Zoom, exchanging more frequent phone calls, playing games virtually, writing emails, inviting friends/family to fitness challenges and photographing our days as a way to connect. Perhaps daily moments like a wave from a neighbor, an interaction with the mailman or a nod from the woman who walks by each morning at 8am with her dog all took on new significance.

Our future social life will involve connecting with co-workers and those far away with technology, but social gatherings, personal interactions, hugs and mask-less smiles will creep back into our lives again too.   

The future of exercise, eating well and self-care has most definitely evolved. There is no looking back. The future of fitness will likely be a fusion of our pre-pandemic/pandemic lifestyles, which I am cautiously optimistic will serve us well. 

As always, we will be challenged to stay motivated and inspired. Especially in times of transition and change, it can be difficult to find balance and keep up habits. Here are some ways to manage it all: 

• Schedule your workout.

• Work out at a time of day that works for you.

• Be specific with your goals and track it.

• Keep your workouts interesting — keep experimenting until you find something you enjoy. 

• Make fitness a part of your day: Take more breaks throughout the day to slip in extra movement. Each hour, get up to walk around a bit, do a few chores or take a stretch break. 

• Reward yourself for completing goals. Celebrate those victories!


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