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Shedding ‘quarantine 15’ and returning to healthy living

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Being less intentional with food and physical activity has led many of us to discover our clothes no longer fit as they once did. The “quarantine 15” and “COVID curves” packed on since 2020 are likely to blame.

Catchy names aside, we know now is the right time to make better choices. These Ohio State experts offer advice for starting or restarting a commitment to healthy living if your fitness goals and nutrition habits were sidelined.

Tips for mindful eating

According to Kristine Dilley, a dietician at Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center Comprehensive Weight Management Department, returning to structure can help jumpstart a healthier you.

“Structure can save you time and minimize the number of daily decisions you have to make about food. Whether you like to plan out a whole week of meals and snacks at one time or simply prep for each day, it’s important to find what works and then stick with it,” she said.

Dilley’s other tips:

  • Practice mindful eating by avoiding distractions. Eating slowly leads to better digestion and often to smaller portions and fewer calories.
  • Skip the caffeine or sugary beverages for pick-me-ups, and go on a brisk walk instead to increase your energy level.
  • Eat whole foods, such as fruits and vegetables, while avoiding processed foods as much as possible. Whole foods provide many nutrients that processed foods lack, which can even help with mood.
  • For a simple way to start focusing on portion control and tracking, try the My Plate website or begin with the Start Simple My Plate tracker app, both on the USDA website. The My Plate method is based on Dietary Guidelines for Americans and creates a visual picture of how food portions look on your plate to create balanced meals.
  • Use mindfulness apps to develop alternate coping skills for all ages. Some offer free trials. Headspace, Calm and Smiling Mind are three of these. There are meditation apps created especially for youth, such as Mindful Powers for grade-schoolers and Stop, Breathe & Think for middle-schoolers and older.   

Tips to get moving

Carmen Swain, senior lecturer, Health and Exercise Science, recommends a gradual return to activity. She teaches Movement Is Medicine – Your Rx to Health, a signature course in the College of Education and Human Ecology.

“The No. 1 thing you can do starting out is make very small changes. It’s about training the mind first. Start so small that it is almost funny. The truth may be that for quite some time, you haven’t done much of anything,” she said. “Do not try to jump right back in full force like millions do every New Year’s. Instead, commit to getting outside to walk 10 minutes every day. Master it and feel good about it and yourself.

“It’s called mastery of experience — science talk for how to get people to adhere to change.”

Swain’s other tips:

  • Movement is far more important than exercise when it comes to weight loss and good health. Research suggests non-exercise movement is far more important for calorie-burning in nearly everyone.

Technically called non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT), it’s a crucial part of metabolism and burns 200% more daily calories than exercise in the average person.

Easy ways to increase NEAT? Standing instead of sitting burns three times more kcal per hour. Taking the stairs gives a big boost — and simply walking at every opportunity is key.

  • Increase your daily walking time by 5 minutes each week. After a month or so of progress, add in 1 minute jog intervals for every 5 minutes of walking. Again, increase the length of jog intervals over time. “By this time, you have created a habit and laid the groundwork for an improved neural feedback that promotes a positive feedback loop to the brain,” she said.
  • For substantial health benefits, adults should do at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity. Adults should also do muscle-strengthening activities of moderate or greater intensity and that involve all major muscle groups on two or more days a week, as these activities provide additional health benefits.
  • Review the CDC Physical Activity Guidelines for information on being active while social distancing and physical activity suggestions for those with special conditions such as arthritis, diabetes or heart disease, as well as for children and older adults.

Tips to lessen stress

Stefanie Morrow, director of Wellness and Health Coaching for the Ohio State Health Plan, describes the need to manage stress as “mission critical” for our wellness and weight management effort, especially when work schedules and personal lives have blended more than ever.

“Cortisol levels and a lack of sleep can make a huge difference in our day-to-day health and weight loss efforts. Look for ways to engage your senses and schedule time to take breaks from technology,” she says.

Morrow’s other tips:

  • Take time to stretch, especially between meetings or extended periods of sitting. Stretching for 10 to 15 minutes at least a couple times a day can do wonders for your mental and physical health. Make every effort to shorten hour-long meetings to 50 minutes so you have built-in time to move and breathe.
  • Choose your favorite short videos with guided yoga stretches and rotate these into your daily calendar. Get outside during a break in your day to increase your step total.
  • Be sure to hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!