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Why a quarantine may be the perfect opportunity for your health goals.


Written By: Coach Matt Dlugos




Yes, this COVID-19 pandemic is single-handedly the most potentially devastating illness our world has seen in the last hundred years. On a global scale, we are seeing nationwide lockdowns to slow the impending spread of this virus. Within the United States, many states – including our neighbors of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Maryland – have all issued the closure of nonessential businesses. What that means for you, and the reason you are most likely reading this article, is because your fitness facility is either closed, or on the verge of closing. The spread of this virus is leaving so much of our near future up in the air. However, one thing that is going to be absolutely essential during this time is making our personal health the best that we can. And here’s the kicker – we can do it without ever stepping foot into the gym.


That’s right. The ultimate answer to improving our health doesn’t reside in weights or machines. The answer isn’t to add 50lbs to your deadlift. Or to shave 2 minutes off your mile time. Truthfully, the answer lies in those areas of our lives that we typically push to the wayside in our fitness journey – nutrition, sleep, or stress management.

Let me first address all of my clients, or anyone else concerned with not making it into the gym. How will we keep your current levels of fitness if we don’t have the gym? In the midst of chaos, this worry seems trivial. But not for me, Coach Kayla, or anyone in our OPEX Morgantown tribe. The gym is more than just exercises or weights or times. The gym is the platform that we use to form ourselves into the ideas and beliefs that we hold the highest. The gym helps us become better role models for our children, become more confident in ourselves and our abilities, or become the healthiest – mentally, physically, and emotionally – that we can be. We don’t come to the gym because we want to get better at being in the gym.


We come to the gym because of how we can use fitness to serve all the important areas of our lives.


The answer to the ‘fitness’ aspect of our health can be answered in a simple way – home workouts. Definitely an easy answer, as many programs or gyms are releasing free workouts all over social media. I want to point you all back to some topics Kayla and I have discussed recently. In a recent IGTV video on our page (@opexmorgantown), I discussed how fitness has less than a 10% impact on our overall health and how our time in the gym is less than 4% of all the time we have during the week.


So, let’s look into the things that we can control that will play a much larger role in our health – lifestyle and nutrition. These two areas have many other subcomponents that we may touch on, but in general, I want to give you the knowledge to set yourself up for success and create longstanding habits.


First and foremost, the biggest opportunity that we are gaining from this potential quarantine is time. TIME. The biggest factor of which almost everyone wishes we had more of. More than likely, a lack of time is our go-to excuse. Why do you eat out for most meals? Why can’t you meal prep for the week? Why can’t you sleep for 8 hours a night? Why can’t you get outside for a walk? Why don’t you reflect or practice mindfulness? “There’s not enough time in the day.” And trust me, I understand. Life is busy and chaotic, we have so many irons in our furnaces, and even if we do manage to find some free time, the last thing we want to do is more work – especially when that work includes improving areas of our lives that we struggle in. BUT, when we don’t take care of those areas of our lives, we let those other irons get cold. If we don’t get enough sleep, our performance at work may start to slide, our mood may become more temperamental towards our spouse or family, and we may make poor decisions in regards to nutrition and fitness. What we don’t realize is that this is a cycle. We get deprived of sleep, we get behind with work or family responsibilities, we choose the convenient, often unhealthy, nutrition choices, stay up late to finish our responsibilities, and then the whole cycle repeats. Day after day, month after month, until we’ve dug ourselves into a hole that’s too deep to crawl out of.


The toughest part of breaking this cycle, even if I laid out every single step in incredible detail and helped you every step of the way – it just takes time.


That’s why this potential quarantine could be the best opportunity that’s happened to you.


Now, we’ve been gifted a little extra time on our hands. Even if you’re still working from home or have kids to take care of. Likely, either you will be on a self, job, or government mandated quarantine. Meaning no driving around, no bars or restaurants to tempt you, or even no more unnecessary spending. So why not take this time to make those changes? Or take steps to make those changes? Here are a few pieces of advice that will really help us move towards creating, implementing, and sustaining those changes.


Daily Flow

The flow, or rhythm, for our lives is something that we can attempt to solidify over the next few weeks to gain a little more control of our hectic schedules. First, we should discuss the more scientific aspect of daily flow – what is called the circadian rhythms. These refer to the physiological processes of all living beings, tied directly to the Earth’s revolution around its axis. The circadian rhythm for humans is very cool (if I do say so). There are so many relations to brain wave and metabolic activities, hormone productions, and other biological processes that if we could take the time (which we now have) to properly align our circadian rhythm, our bodies and our health will thank us greatly.


The awesome part is that it’s super simple to do - wake up when it gets light and go to sleep when it gets dark. Problems arise as we push our rhythm further away from the Earth’s. We stay up later than when the sun goes does, which in turn means we need to sleep more. As we need to sleep more, we wake up later in the morning. Which in turn means we can’t fall asleep as early, meaning we stay up later. And so, the cycle goes.


For the next two weeks, try this:

1. Wake up at a consistent time every – this could be with the sunrise at 7:30am, or sometime before that. But no matter the time, keep it consistent.

2. Expose yourself to light within 30 minutes of being awake. You could do this by:

a. Sitting near an exposed window

b. Having coffee or breakfast outside

c. Going for a walk (take your kids or dog!)

3. Stay unplugged for as long as possible in the morning.

4. Keep a consistent routine that you can maintain for these two weeks.


Sleep

As we talked about above, sleep arguably plays one of the most essential roles in our health. And since we just talked about a morning routine, let’s transition to the evening habits. If you follow the guidelines above and wake up around the time of sun rising, you will likely feel tired earlier in the night than you’re used to. Good. That’s the brain telling the body, “Hey! We’re not getting any sunlight anymore. Let’s power down.” That’s the circadian rhythm in full effect. Now what we should do is prepare ourselves to get the best possible night’s rest. We call this idea sleep hygiene. Sleep hygiene comes from limiting our exposure to many kinds of light (especially blue light) in order for our brains to wind down, keeping our food and water intake low before sleep (slow down digestion processes), and sleeping in cold/dark environments. These all will play a role in not only the quantity of sleep we get, but more importantly, the quality.


For the next two weeks, try this:

· Eat your final meal or snack no less than an hour and a half before bedtime

· Shut down your phone, computer, tablet, TV, or any other unnecessary lighting around the same time as your final meal.

o If this proves difficult, try increasing your devices blue light filter or installing apps like ‘Flux’ to help limit your exposure to blue light. Or get yourself some blue light blocking glasses (I got some for $10 on Amazon).

· Set your room temperature to 67 degrees or cooler to promote a great sleep environment

· Use blackout curtains (or some extra blankets/sheets) to get your room as dark as possible

As with the morning routine, now that we have time on our hands, there is no excuse not to set ourselves up for a successful night’s sleep.


Movement

As we become potentially indefinitely contained to our own humble abodes, cabin fever is sure to be on the rise. While we may not be able fully flee our containment cabins, getting daily movement in one way or another will not only mentally help us in staying sane, but also physically help us stay healthy. Surprisingly enough, our daily activity levels (highly dictated by job and lifestyle) are often the keys to overall health levels. This area is one that we often preach to our clients. We refer to this idea as a ‘NEAT’ idea – Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (haha get it?). NEAT is a way to consistently add movement and motion to your daily schedule, especially if you’re unable to make it into the gym to train, and still help facilitate weight loss. Movement, or blood flow, matters for a number of other reasons including improving overall blood and lymph circulation, naturally detoxifying your body, boosts natural energy and mood, and helps regulate digestion.


For the next two weeks, try this:

· Go for a walk with your kids or your dog.

o If we become contained indoors, take a few minutes each hour to make a few laps around the house

· Use a standing desk (or improvise by stacking books, a chair, whatever you can!)

· Do more chores (lovely, right?)

· Take a few minutes in the morning or evening to add in stretching


Stress Management

Honestly, who isn’t stressed right now? I’m not just talking about the stress from the impending ‘end of the world,’ but the stressors of everyday life. It’s funny how being an “adult” works. We understand stress as just a part of life. We joke about it. We even accept that stress is an eternal part of living – something that may never go away. I can’t pretend to even attempt to help you eliminate stress. But I can offer a bit of advice to help you manage it. All of the previously mentioned topics, plus nutrition and hydration, will help you get control over your schedule which will definitely play a role in managing your stress. However, one great and often underutilized tool to help with managing stress is breathing. Breathing practices will allow you to become more in tune with your body, allow time for meditation and reflection, and become aware of the stressors that are in our lives. Additionally, using breathing practices to help manage stress can help us chemically reduce the levels of cortisol in our bodies. Cortisol is the hormone responsible for lots of bad things in our bodies – weight gain, high blood pressure, mood swings, and ultimately, compromised immune system. A compromised immune system in a time like this can be ill afforded.


For the next two weeks, try this:

· Take 5 to 10 minutes a day to incorporate mindful breathing practices. This doesn’t have to be self-guided either. Look to apps like ‘Calm,’ ‘Headspace,’ or ‘Breethe’ to help guide you through some effective techniques.


Nutrition

I want to keep it as simple as possible. Just eat real food. Period. In a time when being prepared on the nutrition front is essential, let’s look to getting as many real foods as we can. Although it may be smart to have canned or frozen items stocked away, look to get as many foods that require cooking as you can. One of the reasons that we look to real foods is for their micronutrient profile. Here are some of the foods that will provide you the best immune support:

· Vitamin C – Citrus fruits, potatoes, broccoli, bell peppers, spinach, strawberries, tomatoes, brussels sprouts

· Vitamin B6 – Lean meats, fish, poultry, soy products, bananas, green leafy vegetables

· Vitamin E – green leafy vegetables, whole grains, nuts/seeds


As I’m sure you can tell, these are all mostly items you’ll have to buy on the outsides of grocery stores. Ironically, those seem to be the few areas of the stores that aren’t completely raided. Getting as many of those foods will be my first recommendation and your highest priority. It is the cheapest, yet most reliable immune support that you can give your body. The next order of business in the nutrition department is to talk about how to structure your plate. Food can be broken down into 3 different macronutrients: proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. For the next few weeks, we want to try to structure our plates in a way that includes a food from each group. For proteins, try to eat as many animal meats as possible (chicken, beef, pork, fish, etc..). Carbohydrates are sometimes tricky due to our body’s responses to them, but to keep things simple, try to eat as many vegetables and fruits as possible. Fats are probably the group to keep the closest eye on because the quantity of fats can sneak up on us without knowing. But again, for some ideas, stick to olive/coconut/avocado oils, nuts, and seeds.

To include the three of these groups in each meal, we also need to be aware of the portions of these groups that we are eating. For reference, we can use the size of our hands to determine how much of each food to eat.

· Protein = the size of your palm

· Carb/Vegetables/Fruit = the size of a closed fist

· Fat = the size of your thumb


For the next two weeks, try this:

In a simple scenario, you could start by creating your breakfast plate by having:

3 whole eggs

1 cup of spinach (or other greens)

Or

1 handful of berries (or banana)

¼ of an avocado

Then for lunch, we can implement the same tools but vary the foods:

1 breast of chicken

1 cup of mixed vegetables

Cooked in 1.5 tbsp of olive oil


The key is to keep the combinations simple (less than 5 total ingredients) and EAT REAL FOOD.


Hydration

We all know the importance of hydration. Proper hydration provides a plethora of amazing benefits to our bodies. For one, it boosts metabolism, increases usable energy, and increases thermogenic effects within our bodies. It helps us maintain healthy blood levels and improve blood flow, reduce joint pain, and remove waste within the body. Most often, I hear clients say that they forget about drinking enough water because they are always busy or on the go. So now that we have the opportunity of time on our hands, we have no excuses! And let’s be honest, with all of the advice and recommendations I’m giving, this may be one of the easiest ones to implement. I want us to aim for getting half of our body in ounces. This means if you are a male who weighs 200lbs, aim to drink at least 100 ounces of water (as a starting point).


For the next two weeks, try this:

· Set an alarm for every hour (or two) and drink at least a cup of water.

o If you do this every hour for just 8 hours, that’s 64 ounces of water… which should be a huge chunk of that recommended intake.


All in all, I want us to use this time as an opportunity, in disguise, to work on those areas of our lives that really need the attention. Fitness is the smallest portion of the pie that affects our overall health. But often, we overemphasize that aspect in order to mask the other areas of our lives and health that we struggle in. Now is the best time to push ourselves to better those areas. We have all the resources of time on our hands now.


And talk to your coach! That is literally why we are here. We are here FOR YOU. You still don’t know where to go from here? That’s totally normal! Reach out and ask your coach to help you get started and sustain those habits.


At the end of the day, everyone is on their own path in life. Besides your spouse or family, no one knows where you are better than your coach. Let your coach help you during this time of uncertainty. I am certain that they can help provide the tools to improve your health in so many ways outside of the gym.


Stay safe out there!

Coach Matt

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