Lockdown threw up many challenges, but it also forced us to slow down, examine the way we live our lives, and put greater importance on our health. How can we avoid falling back into our regular “hamster wheel” lives, and cling on to the valuable lessons we have learned?
For our wellbeing, both physical and mental, it would be so advantageous if we could take some of the new healthy habits formed and consciously make them a part of our everyday life to prevent the toxicity returning. Jo Ebsworth explains how to discover which newfound habits you should hold onto – and how you can keep incorporating them into your life now that normality is returning.
1. Exercise for up to one hour a day
As one of the only means of escaping our homes, exercising outdoors for an hour every day fast became the new norm, while online searches for “home workouts” and ‘home gym equipment’ increased by 5-600 per cent worldwide in the first few weeks of lockdown. The result? Recent research by ASICS shows 43 per cent of Brits are exercising more now than they were when the pandemic struck. ‘Lockdown made us realise the huge importance of exercise, and it’s a habit worth prioritising once restrictions are lifted, not least because it has countess scientifically proven benefits from controlling your body weight, reducing the chances of having heart problems and improving your sleep so you can live longer and with more quality,’ says Maximuscle fitness expert Nadia Abreu.
2. Maintain a routine
The Covid-19 crisis threw all our regular routines up into the air – one of the principal causes for our escalating anxiety levels, say experts. ‘Routines help us to create an easy, calmer and more comfortable reality. We thrive on order and certainty for safety, and to improve our mood and thinking patterns,’ explains psychotherapist Mark Newey. ‘But while many of us have intuitively created new routines during lockdown, it might not be so obvious to take them forward with us.’ The best routines, he says, are ones that coincide with the slowing down of daily life, including regularly taking five minutes out to breathe and ‘just be’, allowing stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol to flow away so we can rebalance our bodies and minds.
3. Work out for mental health
A report by Sport England across the first six weeks of lockdown showed that 63 per cent of people exercised to manage their mental health. ‘During this period, many of us used exercise as a tool to stay sane rather than chase the “dream body”, and in my opinion, that’s how we should exercise in general,’ says Abreu. ‘While there’s nothing wrong with training for a six-pack, the moment you start seeing beyond that is when you no longer become a slave to the word “should”, and more in control of “wanting” to work out. And the more you exercise, the more you benefit from the release of endorphins, which help to relieve symptoms of depression and anxiety, improve self-esteem and do wonders for our energy and mood.’
One study showed that running for 15 minutes a day or walking for an hour reduces the risk of major depression by 26 per cent, while yoga is known to have a calming effect on your nervous systems as soon as you start breathing deeply.
4. Learn a new skill
With so much spare time on our hands in lockdown, many of us used it constructively to learn a new language, get creative with art projects, experiment with cooking (banana bread, anyone?), or study for a new qualification, which in turn boosted our mood and gave us a sense of accomplishment. But the last thing you should do when life gets busy again is put your cognitively stimulating hobbies on hold. Neuroscience has recently discovered that the brain is like a muscle that can change physically in size and shape, and in functionality too, meaning the more we practice something and stimulate particular neural pathways, the easier we find the task. ‘Learning something new causes the brain to build connections between neurons – replacing some of those we lose over time – and produce Myelin, which makes the signals in our neurons move faster, helping our brain become more connected and feel like it’s working quicker and better, especially as we get older’, says Newey.
5. Rise to a new challenge
For many of us, lockdown was one of the biggest emotional challenges we’ve ever faced. But it also taught us the importance of trying new things, so why wouldn’t we want to carry on challenging ourselves once we return to normality? ‘Embracing challenges, mental or physical, gives us an opportunity to grow and improve ourselves’, says Abreu. ‘I recently learned to ride a bike and, now I’ve broken this fear, I have the opportunity to ride to work if I want. By getting out of your comfort zone, you can discover new hobbies and potential passions.