It is possible to exercise and eat well right now — and it's more important than ever.

By Hillary Maglin
March 26, 2020
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As stores, restaurants, and more businesses and public gathering places continue to close in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it may be difficult to keep your physical and mental health intact — after all, nutrient-rich foods aren't as easy to come by, social gatherings have been halted, and gyms and fitness centers aren't able to welcome guests.

While keeping up healthy habits is easier said than done under such circumstances, it's not impossible. Travel + Leisure chatted with Dr. Roshini Rajapaksa of NYU Langone Health about the importance of exercise and nutrition right now, and the best ways to give your body and mind what they need in times of uncertainty. Here are her tips for the coming weeks and months.

First Steps to Take at Home

“With so many of us at home right now... there are things we can do to stay healthy in the home and make sure we’re not spreading the germs to our loved ones or family members. If we’re not sick right now, or not sure if we’re going to become sick in the next couple days, you just want to make sure you’re keeping your germs to yourself. So one of the things I recommend is, in terms of cleaning and disinfecting, to make sure you’re using the right agents to do that," Dr. Rajapaksa said.

"So, we’re talking about those high-touch surfaces, things like doorknobs and kitchen countertops, or the refrigerator door handle. All these things should be cleaned daily with a solution that has a high level of bleach, or at least 70% alcohol. The good news is most of the disinfectants out there that you can buy in the store do have this level of bleach or alcohol. Just double check to be 100% sure, and just be mindful that you’re not sharing germs with anyone else in the home. Part of that is using gloves when you are cleaning, and if possible, disposing of those gloves every day.”

Looking After Your Mental Health

“Going stir-crazy is something a lot of Americans are facing right now, but there are steps you can do to maintain your sanity. One thing I highly recommend is adhering to a schedule. That means getting up at the same time every day, actually taking a shower, getting dressed. I have a lot of friends who are joking about their day pajamas versus their night pajamas. But really, changing into your regular clothes for the work day, eating at regular times — so eating your meals at certain times of the day — and also allowing for some type of activity, whether that’s in the home or stepping outside by yourself," Dr. Rajapaksa said.

"This is very important to maintain not only a sense of calm, but a sense of control during this very uncertain, topsy-turvy time. I personally like to wake up every morning and when I’m in my bed, before I even get out, think about three things I’m grateful for and take five slow, deep breaths. All of this is really going to help maintain your sanity during this very challenging time.”

The Importance of Exercise

“Finding ways to exercise right now can be challenging because a lot of the gyms are closed, and even if they’re not closed you probably should not be going to them. But it is extremely important, especially during this time, to maintain some physical activity. We know exercise is great for our overall health, for our immune system in particular, and also really important for maintaining mental health and decreasing stress," Dr. Rajapaksa said.

"So what should you do? Well, there are many free videos on YouTube or on cable that have fitness or dance classes. I’ve been doing a different one every day. Hip-hop one day, salsa the next. I’ve realized I’m not a great dancer, that’s something I’ve learned during this time, but they’re really fun and I’ve burned some calories. You can also stream some boutique fitness classes, there are great apps for that. But I also recommend trying to get outdoors by yourself, not being close to crowds or really other people at all, but trying to take a brisk walk, doing some stretches outside, just being out in the fresh air and doing some activity outside is also wonderful for your mental health.”

Maintaining a Healthy Diet

“Many people are worried about food shortages. Grocery stores are either overcrowded or depleted of supplies, so a lot of people are concentrating on storing food as much as possible. But it’s important to remember you want to store the right food, and maintaining a healthy diet right now is more important than ever, because we know that what we eat can really affect our health as well as our immunity. So I really want to encourage you to stick to, as much as you can, immune-boosting foods like fruits and vegetables that are high in antioxidants, foods that have omega-3 fatty acids, things like walnuts and fish if you can get it. And you know, frozen foods are not all bad for you. In fact, you can freeze vegetables so they can last a long time," Dr. Rajapaksa said.

"You can also buy fresh vegetables that have a long shelf life. Things like apples and beets and carrots, potatoes. These are things that can last for several months in your refrigerator. So make sure you’re really incorporating fruits and vegetables, especially the green, leafy vegetables in your diet, if possible, every day. Nuts are another great snack, and there are certain nuts that are high in protein and high in antioxidant quality. They also are very satiating, so a few nuts can actually keep you full as a snack longer than a bag full of chips, for example.”

Why Is Diet so Important?

“If you’re wondering how what you eat really affects your immune system, you should know that much of our immune system’s actually based in our gut, in our digestive tract. And that’s why it’s so important to eat the foods that really foster a healthy microbiome," Dr. Rajapaksa said. "Those healthy, good bacteria live in your gut so that they can help produce the right kind of immune cells for your overall health.”

How Do I Know if I’m Staying Healthy?

“Some signs to look out for that you’re not really eating the proper foods or exercising the right way is a feeling of sluggishness. So you’re feeling just low energy, you don’t have the same level of energy you normally do. If you’re noticing your hair is a bit drier than normal, your skin seems drier, your nails are more brittle, they actually break more easily, these are potentially signs of poor nutrition, and you really want to make sure you’re looking at your diet, and getting all the nutrients you need," Dr. Rajapaksa said. "And this may be a time, if you’re not already doing it, to start taking a multivitamin. I normally prefer people to get these vitamins and minerals through their foods, but if your diet is a little bit off right now, you don’t have access to the normal foods that you usually get, it’s not a bad idea to just take a multivitamin as well.”