It was a HUGE shock to our system. COVID-19, once an unknown virus, suddenly posed a grave threat to everyone on Earth. In a matter of days, our interconnected, always-on society had shut down.
With stay-at-home orders imposed, we had to re-think everything we did. Office workers struggled to re-establish their routine from their couches. Parents learned how hard teaching actually was. And, with their favorite restaurants closed, urbanites put on a brave face and entered the kitchen.
2020 has been a year of forced change for us all. And for many, these shifts have had health consequences. Below, we’ll explore those trends – both good and bad.
Back in March, nobody knew how bad COVID-19 was going to be. As “shelter-in-place” orders confined us to our homes, we turned on the news. And what we saw freaked us out. Non-stop reporting of deaths and new infections dominated the airwaves. Even worse, experts speculated that hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of deaths were inevitable.
And so, we ate – a lot. When under stress, binge eating is a common response. Combined with inactivity, it was a recipe for massive weight gain. But, that wasn’t the only problem – within weeks, our brains had associated junk food with comfort. With this unhealthy habit now hardwired into our brains, we kept eating, even as we tried to stop.
According to a Nutrisystem survey, 76% of Americans reported gaining more than 16 pounds during the lockdown. However, as bad as this weight gain was for our long-term health, it also had effects on our mental well-being.
Continuous coverage of death counts, political incompetence/indifference, and murder hornets has taken its toll on our psyche. Over the years, experts have drawn strong links between over-consumption of negative news and poor mental health.
In 2011, the British Journal of Psychology reported that just 14 minutes of negative news caused significant increases in sadness and anxiety. And, in 2013, a PNAS research article canvassed TV viewers about news coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing. It revealed those who watched more than six hours experienced greater acute stress than those who actually witnessed the attack.
But, that wasn’t the only thing weighing on us. By April, unemployment had soared to 14.7%. Stimulus was scant – just one $1,200 check and massively delayed PPP loans. As of the writing of this article, one-third of American households missed housing payments in July.
On top of all this, many parents had to educate their kids. As they attempted to make arithmetic fun, this task only increased the tension in their everyday lives.
And yet, others have managed to improve their health during the lockdown. With most forms of entertainment closed, many of us have turned our focus inward. We’ve dusted off our running shoes, found our free weights, and have begun to work out again.
Preliminary studies have highlighted this trend. According to running site, RunRepeat.com, 38%-88% of casual exercisers (those who work out 1-4 times per week) reported an increase in physical activity during the lockdown. A formal study in The International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health affirmed this finding. According to this paper, 58% of self-described “low active” people reported exercising more during lockdown.
And, while some reported a worsening of their mental state in quarantine, others saw improvements. For some, working from home removed them from stressful situations. According to an Angus Reid study, 28% of respondents said the switch to remote work resulted in lower stress levels. The absence of a commute, ever-present managers, and interruptions from co-workers are all likely explanations.
While working from home has its drawbacks (34% reported an increase in stress), most see it as a net positive. According to another survey, 85% of respondents wanted work-from-home to remain an option after the pandemic.
For those with families, COVID-19 has allowed them to spend more time together. According to a survey by the Logit Group, 60% reported increased quality time with family members. Additionally, lockdown-forced bonding extended beyond family units. The same survey revealed that 30% reported deepened bonds with friends during quarantine.
There is more to good health than just exercising – diet is essential as well. According to a YouGov survey, 22% of Britons cleaned up their diet during the lockdown. With the rush of “everyday life” absent, they had a chance to evaluate their habits.
Many of us in Canada have also focused on eating less junk and more whole foods. With more time to cook, we’ve taken the opportunity to learn new recipes. Meal kits have aided in this quest – data from MealKitsCanada.ca has shown an increase in orders. With prices starting at $26 per week, their affordability has allowed inexperienced cooks to get outside their comfort zone.
The Key To Good Health Outcomes: It’s In Our Hands
Earlier in 2020, we locked down hard. It was stressful, but thanks to this sacrifice, we flattened the curve. This difficult time has highlighted the power of choice. Specifically, by making intelligent decisions regarding diet, exercise, and mindset, you can significantly improve your health.
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