As a person who normally strives to maintain a “3-legged” lifestyle wellness, RHP Associate Health Scientist Eric Kaufman blogs about how his lifestyle has changed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and provides his suggestions for continuing a healthy lifestyle during the “shelter-in-place” orders
For several years I have thought of wellness as a three-legged stool. Supporting the stool are a “fitness leg”, a “nutrition leg”, and a “sleep leg”, with each leg providing essential support to a well-balanced lifestyle.
A pitfall in this wellness design is imbalance. Whether it is skipping a workout, having a “cheat” meal, or skimping on quality sleep, the design naturally can fall short in one or more ways. Generally, I have always strived to maintain maximum effort for at least two of the three areas of support.
When I moved to Chicago and began my career at RHP Risk Management I maintained what I considered a very well-balanced wellness stool: breakfasts and lunches prepared for work, a target of 7.5 hours of sleep each night, a 1 to 1.5-hour workout prior to work, and rest on weekends.
This routine worked very well for me during my first three months working, with the only shortcomings being occasional nights of subpar sleep and general lack of interest in cooking dinner after work. Overall, this wellness design was successful in creating the sustainable lifestyle I sought out to achieve as a new hire.
Starting in March, project needs changed my routine. Shortly thereafter, the pandemic went into full effect. Initially, the change in lifestyle was welcomed. Starting each day later than my typical 4:30am wake up, working from the comfort of my apartment instead of navigating the Chicagoland commute, and scaling back diet restrictions were all welcomed changes. Reflecting on my target lifestyle design during this time, I realized my stool was mostly supported by high quality sleep at least initially.
After about 3 weeks the conditions of the pandemic response showed no signs of changing however our firm was deemed “Essential” and I went back to work. I was determined to aggressively reevaluate the legs of the wellness stool that were within my control to make the most of the situation. By focusing on nutrition and sleep, my habits have improved considerably. I have continued to meal prep the breakfasts and lunches I bring to work each day, yet these meals are more nutritious than as before. In the evening, instead of occasionally winding down with wine as I had done when the pandemic first began, I have since started drinking sparkling mineral water with dinner to feel revived and ready each morning.
In looking at the fitness leg of the wellness stool, although I cannot entirely replicate the same workouts that I had been doing prior to the virus, this set of circumstances has allowed me to rethink workout routines. With no access to gym equipment, I have resorted to workouts of 20-30 minutes involving compact bodyweight movements like pushups, sit ups, burpees, lunges, and planks. And in addition, I now emphasize quality stretching every day- a facet of working out I did not prioritize pre-virus.
From a nutrition standpoint, some of the different meals that have grown out of the pandemic include cauliflower rice stir fry, lettuce-wrapped turkey burgers, pesto lemon chicken cauliflower gnocchi, and ending the work week with steak on Fridays as a “treat”. Overall, the general diet approach I have taken has been low carbohydrate and dairy free, emphasizing fiber-dense carbohydrates paired with lean proteins. The reason I have utilized this approach is due to the conditions I have been faced with: without the ability to workout beyond bodyweight and put on muscle, I have sought to maintain my current muscle mass via sufficient protein intake, and keep body fat low by way of replacing high glycemic carbohydrates with energy packed, healthy fats like nuts.
So, while I may not be working out each morning, I now have time to workout with my girlfriend after work and go on post-dinner walks together (both wearing masks if required), more time to plan nutritious meals to cook after work, and time to prioritize sleep.
Although our lives have been complicated in varying degrees due to the global pandemic, we have been given precious time to reconsider and reevaluate how we live our daily lives. Eventually, life as we know it will return to a “new normal” with offices and gyms opening back up. Yet it is important to take this time think about the healthy habits we want to go back to the office having ingrained during this time.