If your life these days is anything like mine, a pre-pandemic routine that included regular exercise and disciplined eating has probably given way to sedentary evenings on a big chair, binge-watching reruns of your favorite TV series while guzzling chocolate ice cream or mac ‘n’ cheese.
But let’s not beat ourselves up about it. Several doctors I spoke with recently said most of their patients and many of their colleagues are struggling to maintain healthy habits amid the anxiety of the pandemic. “The Quarantine 15” (pounds, that is) is a real phenomenon.
The double challenge of protecting our health, including our immune systems, while battling unhealthy temptations “is a struggle everyone is dealing with,” says Dr. David Kilgore, director of the integrative medicine program at the University of California-Irvine.
Well before COVID-19, more than 40% of U.S. adults were obese, which puts them at risk for COVID-19’s worst outcomes. But even people accustomed to physical fitness and good nutrition are having trouble breaking the bad habits they’ve developed over the past five months.
Karen Clark, a resident of Knoxville, Tennessee, discovered competitive rowing later in life, and her multiple weekly workouts burned off any excess calories she consumed. But the pandemic changed everything: She could no longer meet up with her teammates to row and stopped working out at the YMCA.
Suddenly, she was cooped up at home. And, as for many people, that led to a more sedentary lifestyle, chained to the desk, with no meetings outside the house or walks to lunch with colleagues.
“I reverted to comfort food and comfortable routines and watching an awful lot of Netflix and Amazon Prime, just like everybody else,” Clark says. “When I gained 10 pounds and I was 25, I just cut out the beer and ice cream for a week. When you gain 12 pounds at 62, it’s a long road back.”
She started along that road in July, when she stopped buying chips, ice cream and other treats. And in August, she rediscovered the rowing machine in her basement.
But don’t worry if you lack Clark’s discipline, or a rowing machine. You can still regain some control over your life.
A good way to start is to establish some basic daily routines, since in many cases that’s exactly what the pandemic has taken away, says Dr. W. Scott Butsch, director of obesity medicine at the Cleveland Clinic’s Bariatric and Metabolic Institute. He recommends you “bookend” your day with physical activity, which can be as simple as a short walk in the morning and a longer one after work.
And, especially if you have kids at home who will be studying remotely this fall, prepare your meals at the beginning of the day, or even the beginning of the week, he says.
If you haven’t exercised in a while, “start slow and gradually get yourself up to where you can tolerate an elevated heart rate,” says Dr. Leticia Polanco, a family medicine doctor with the South Bay Primary Medical Group, just south of San Diego. If your gym is…