A Challenge for these Challenging Times

Posted on Apr 17, 2020

Opening another bottle of wine is tempting during these times of hibernation, reclusion and unanticipated fear.  We have been made to believe that it’s now or never to flex our baking skills, binge watch the television series we missed last year and consume a bag of chips to go with it.  After all, people are getting sick, job loss is overwhelming, our children are home-schooled by overburdened parents, the government is in disarray and the road ahead is uncertain.

As cloudy as the future looks, one thing is certain: heart disease, diabetes, high cholesterol and other chronic illnesses will persist even after we find a vaccine for this virus.  These diseases, along with cancer, worsen with erratic sleep habits, sedentary behavior, stress, and consumption of rich foods including meat and sugar.  As we flatten one disease curve, let’s not create a steep slope in others.

We owe it to our families and ourselves to stay fitter than ever.  Furthermore, all data seems to show that virus-infected patients with chronic health conditions fare much worse than healthier patients.  I challenge you to believe there is no better time than now to focus on your own health, especially while health care workers are putting everything on the line to keep the sickest among us alive.  The good news is that you don’t need fancy gyms, private trainers, complex grocery lists or a wealth of resources to do it.

Here are several tips that can help start the journey:

  • Is there a health food you have sworn off due to taste?  Or one that you’ve been too afraid to try?  Now is a great time to search the Internet for a recipe that will make brussels sprouts palatable (try roasting them) or cooked white beans delicious (try mixing them with lemon juice and dill and serving over a bed of greens).  Although not a sardine-lover, several weeks ago I purchased a few tins of these bony fish for my pantry.  Those pantry days came quickly and I discovered that rinsed sardines paired with roasted tomatoes and balsamic vinegar were not only delicious but a very effective way to consume calcium, vitamin D, omega 3s and protein when fresh fish was not lying around.


  • Consider planting some seeds that will mature into vegetables and herbs that you can eat all summer long.  Gardening is a healthful activity in itself, but when you couple it with the joy of growing a fresh eggplant or having enough basil to make homemade pesto, it will inspire you to continue cooking at home long after Covid passes.  You need nothing more than a windowsill to grow a bounty of mint, chives or other herbs that you can use in a dozen different ways.


  • Alcohol is not your best friend despite memes, social media posts, or acquaintances telling you otherwise.  The American Heart Association maintains a guideline of less than 1 drink per day for women and less than 2 drinks per day for men.  Try to stay well within this limit, as anything more will only worsen anxiety, wreak havoc on sleep and contribute to cancer and heart disease in the long run.  Save the bottle of wine for a celebration with friends once the pandemic has passed.  If your emotions need an escape now, find an online therapist, a friend to talk to or a journal in which to write your thoughts.  (The latter is a powerfully cathartic and inexpensive tool to get you through stressful times.)  Exercise daily, place positive quotes around the house, listen to music, read inspiring books and try to emerge from this pandemic as better version of yourself.


  • Make a list of healthy foods you actually enjoy eating.  Try to pick as many vegetables, nuts, fruits, and legumes (beans, lentils) as possible and then do an Internet search for quick recipes using those ingredients.  Get in the habit now of making dishes that will double as a healthy lunch so that you can skip afternoon take-out at the office or treats supplied by co-workers.


  • Missing the gym and don’t feel comfortable exercising outside?  Best kept secret: you need nothing more than a few square feet to get an excellent workout that will leave you feeling satisfied and keep the mood in check.  Try jumping jacks, knee lifts, and lateral shuffles for cardio; push-ups, sit-ups and squats for resistance training.  If that’s not your style, there are countless free aerobic and strength training videos online for any age group.  Continue using them into the future to tide you over on days when you can’t get to the gym or when you want a change from your regular routine.  Turn on music or your favorite TV show for motivation and start low and slow.  Build up each day until eventually you are exercising 3-5 days per week for at least 30-45 minutes.  Spend a little time on the other days meditating, stretching or doing balance exercises.


In the end, you have made the painful but responsible commitment to halt your life as you know it by social distancing and staying put.  When life gives us lemons, we must try to make some lemonade.  If you’re one of the lucky ones who remain Covid-free, continue to set your life on the healthiest course possible instead of falling prey to the diseases that existed before this pandemic.