Sanja Radin/Getty Images

The COVID-19 Pandemic Has Inspired New Health Habits for These 4 Scholars – Here’s What They Put into Practice and Why

The new year is a perfect time to adopt new health habits and routines. These four scholars reflect on the ways that they overcame the pandemic blues to get fit.

For some people, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought about change – some welcome and some not so welcome – to their routines or to what they prioritize. We asked four scholars to reflect on a health habit that they have adopted during the tumultuous months and years since COVID-19 turned people’s lives upside down.


Walking as a source of solitude and connection

Libby Richards, Associate Professor of Nursing, Purdue University

As a busy working mom of two active boys, I embrace solitude whenever I can; I even take solace in grocery shopping. But when the pandemic hit, my errands became risky activities. Instead, with schools closed and the family at home, I embraced my time with them and got creative entertaining the kids.

But it was harder to find time for myself. “Alone time” went out the window. If I wanted to keep my sanity, I knew I needed to find some space. That’s when I put on my walking shoes and went outside.

At first, the walk was simply an escape. But as my routine became more consistent, I began to recognize and experience its benefits. As a nurse and physical activity researcher, I already understood the importance of an active lifestyle. But before the pandemic, I focused only on the physical aspects, like keeping my muscles toned and weight stable.

I discovered that I had overlooked a crucial benefit of physical activity: mental health. Instead of focusing my walks on physical fitness, I started walking for stress and tension relief. And it worked. My sleep improved, I had fewer headaches and I could concentrate better.

Although my family is easing back into a new routine, I continue to walk, even during phone meetings and when it’s cold out. Sometimes I walk to do errands instead of driving. I feel more connected with nature, and I have a greater appreciation for fresh air. I’ve been able to disconnect from daily stressors, my mood and outlook are better and my overall sense of well-being has improved.


Making weightlifting a strong habit

Alison Phillips, Associate Professor of Psychology, Iowa State University

Consistency is key to forming habits, and you have to cultivate the habits that get you closer to your goals.

I decided to lift weights during the pandemic to build strength and to reduce stress. As a health psychologist who studies how to build health-related habits, I already knew what I needed to do: repeat the behavior in the same time or place and make sure a reward was tied to the behavior. No problem, I thought.

When it comes to cardio activity, I already had a solid habit, starting years before the pandemic. Every day, before dinner, I would do something that counts as cardio. During the pandemic, this has included getting on the home elliptical, jogging outside or doing a step video. I knew that one way to form a new habit is to piggyback on an existing habit, so I planned to lift weights after my cardio sessions. Four times a week, I would alternate resistance training of arms and legs.

But lifting weights wasn’t fun, it didn’t feel good at first, and I couldn’t tell if I was improving. I kept track of my weights workout on a calendar, and for most of 2020, that was the only reward I felt – a sense of accomplishment and a check mark on a piece of paper. I still had to persuade myself to do it, and only guilt or anticipated regret would drive me.

That didn’t work so well. Three days or more would pass with no weightlifting, until I would finally force myself to do it. Eventually, after months and months of semiregular lifting, I came to see it as something I valued.

What was my reward? I became more toned and fit, sure. And that was part of my identity and something I could be proud of during the mess of the pandemic. But what finally turned weightlifting into a habit was the good physical sensations I came to appreciate during and after a muscle-building exercise. If I didn’t lift weights after doing cardio, my body felt unused.

All habits, good or bad, require a similar process to become habitual. Typically, this involves repetition in a familiar context, paired with a reward for the behavior. The “context” for the habit might be a consistent location, timing and/or a sequence of activities.

It took me a full year to develop what I would call a habit of lifting weights. Now, even when my context changes – like returning to the gym after getting vaccinated or traveling for work or holidays – my body expects and needs the muscle work, and I find a way to do some kind of resistance training.


Small indulgences, in moderation

Katherine Basbaum, Clinical Dietitian, University of Virginia

As a registered dietitian, I’ve always promoted and followed the “all foods fit” mentality. This means that, as long as the majority of your meals and snacks are prepared with nutritious foods, then small indulgences are fine.

For as long as I can remember, chocolate has been one of the tiny indulgences I allowed myself. Pre-pandemic, my chocolate habit consisted of one small piece in the morning with coffee, none during the day since I was running around a hospital from 9 to 5, and then another after dinner.

But when the pandemic began and I began working at home a few days per week, my routines changed in a big way, including what and when I ate. I still had three mostly balanced meals on the days I worked from home. But a new habit emerged too. My chocolate consumption, once a morning and evening indulgence, sometimes tripled. That’s because the chocolate was always right there, easily accessible all day long.

When I realized my once-harmless habit was out of control, I stopped buying the large bags of chocolate. Instead, I downsized to a single-serving package once per week. Because I wasn’t going to stores much, I was forced to stretch it out.

Ultimately I got back to my two-a-day routine. And even though I’m back to working in person at the hospital, I haven’t gone back to the big bags of chocolate. Those single-serving packages still suit me just fine.


Clearing the mind through meditation

Jessica Bane Robert, Writing and Mindfulness Instructor, Clark University

A growing body of research shows that meditation can sharpen the mind.

I’ve taught a course called Mindful Choices at Clark University for eight years, so one might think I would have had a consistent meditation practice before now.

Yet not until the pandemic did I find the time and mental space to commit to daily meditation. Since March 2020, at least once daily, I have reserved 10 minutes to calm my mind by focusing on the breath or by using guided visualizations to picture beautiful supportive places or positive future outcomes. Depending on the day, I performed my “sits,” as they are called by meditation practitioners, by the pond in front of my home, upon waking or at bedtime.

[Like what you’ve read? Want more? Sign up for The Conversation’s daily newsletter.]

Since then, my blood pressure has dropped – but even more importantly, I have experienced greater peace. I have less attachment to negative thoughts and emotions while being able to really dwell and linger on the positive. Further, meditation has improved my focus and “working memory.” Research suggests that benefits can be achieved with as little as 10 minutes a day spent meditating.

Taking time to meditate may feel selfish to some, but research shows it can reduce prejudice and bias toward others as well as lessen one’s own tendency to find the negative in situations, called negativity bias. To foster gentleness toward oneself and compassion for others, my students and I practice loving kindness – a type of meditation practice popularized by author Sharon Salzberg.

Many apps are available to guide you while cuing you to meditate and provide community – two things that make a new habit stick. Insight Timer – my favorite – has a free version, but you may want to try Headspace, Waking Up, Ten Percent Happier and Calm, all apps that offer free trials. If you learn a new practice better by reading, dive into Salzberg’s “Real Happiness” or Jon Kabat-Zinn’s classic “Wherever You Go, There You Are.”

What I love about my new habit is that meditation can be done anytime, anywhere. All you need is your breath and, with it, you can change the quality of your thoughts and your day.

The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.