As many of us are entering the second or third month of the stay at home orders around the United States, it is easy to become disconnected. While it may feel the same, being physically distanced shouldn’t mean disconnected. It is important to do some critical self-care during this time. The month of May highlights, in my opinion, two very important issues we should be addressing this month: Mental Health and Physical Fitness.
I touched briefly on Physical Fitness in my April blog post, but I wanted to delve a little deeper this month as we are spending a little more time inside, even with the warm weather approaching. It’s hard when our normal schedules are disrupted and if you rely on places like gyms or group classes to get your exercise, it can be difficult to know where to start from home.
Don’t discount the activity you are doing – because you can turn anything into physical fitness! Many of Americans are home with their children and kids also need activity. During the week of May 1 – 7, it is National Physical Education and Fitness Week. During that time, why not make it your focus to try a new activity every day? In the week you are trying these activities, write down what you enjoy about them, and continue the ones that bring you the most joy. Here are some ideas:
Use the Stairs
If you have stairs at home, or if you live in a building where there are stairs, you can run long sets of stairs for a cardio warm-up or burnout. If you don’t have stairs, try using a sturdy chair or stool to do box jumps, tricep dips, step-ups, or decline push-ups.
Dance it Out
Dancing is amazing exercise and it’s good for the soul. Throw on your favorite music and have a dance party! Change it up, grab your kids and play freeze dance – get the whole family involved.
While you’re watching TV, walk in place, do jumping jacks, lunges, stretches and lift weights. Make watching television an active sport.
Be Less Efficient
When you are cleaning the house, picking up, putting groceries away, etc. be less efficient. Carry one thing at a time and maximize your steps. Make multiple trips up the stairs, carry one grocery bag at a time, find ways to move from one end of the house to the other. You’ll burn more calories and move more.
Play an Active Sport
Do you have a front or backyard? Utilize the space. Kick a ball, play catch, create an obstacle course, play basketball, kickball, or go for a jog. You can even use chalk and play hopscotch.
Instead of running in place as mentioned above, do high knee kicks.
- Go for a run or jog outside – take your dog with you and you’ll both get exercise.
- Wall squats are effective, and you don’t need any equipment.
- Jumping jacks, planks, sit-ups, lunges, burpees – the cardio moves are endless!
- Don’t have weights? Filled water bottles equal about 1 pound. If that is too light, you can use paint cans, milk jugs, packets of rice or beans, books, or even those bags of onions and potatoes you’ve got laying around.
There is no excuse for being inactive – there are way too many options out there. All you need is a little motivation. Not only does physical fitness control weight, it combats health conditions and diseases by helping prevent and even manage concerns like high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, arthritis, and many more. Being active promotes better sleep, gives you more energy, can improve your mood and can be so much fun once you find the right activity for you. In addition to all the examples I gave above, you can Google many free at-home workouts and receive an amazing array of tutorials, workouts, and support groups on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.
Many of us are missing an integral part of our lives, right now while physically distancing to stay safe, which is physical touch. Did you know that hugging, according to a study at Carnegie Mellon shows that hugging may actually boost your immune system? It may sound crazy, but the study found that those who felt socially supported and were hugged more often also experienced less-severe signs of illness after being exposed to a common cold.
Now, I’m not condoning all of us to go outside and hug everyone right now during this time, as the common cold is completely different than the pandemic we are facing at the moment. What I am saying is that theorists believe interpersonal touch can modulate oxytocin (a feel-good hormone also known as “the cuddle chemical”) and the endogenous opioid system (neurons in the brain that can produce soothing chemicals), both of which can boost health.
Do you know what else produces those same hormones? Exercising! It is super important for our physical and mental / emotional health to do what we can to boost those “feel good” chemicals in our body. Exercise has been shown to improve your mood and decrease feelings of depression, anxiety and stress and can increase the production of endorphins, which are known to help produce positive feelings and reduce the perception of pain. Practice self-care and do what you can to take care of your mental health by staying active – it is medically proven to be effective.
Other things you can do to take care of yourself to ensure the best possible mental health is to eat healthy foods, get enough sleep, practice good hygiene and try doing something you enjoy every day. It is especially important to try and manage stress and relax as much as possible in healthy ways like through meditation or prayer, yoga, taking a bath, bake your favorite treat, garden, or even taking some time to quietly sit outside and appreciate nature.
Take some time to connect with those in your household and build a remote community. Zoom, Google hangouts, Facetime, and Facebook video are all great ways to see people face to face in a time where we cannot get together physically. Call someone once a day, talk about how you feel. It is a great time to connect with those whom you haven’t been able to in a while; so make that phone call, write a letter, connect through social media.
My favorite thing to do when I’m stressed (besides take my sweet Luigi on a run) is cook for my husband! Right now, comfort food is definitely called for, and maybe even a few extra sweets (especially if you are using healthy ingredients). Here are some ideas to cook up some love for your household this month:
Christine’s Low-Fat, Low-Sugar Cheesecake
- 1¼ cups graham cracker crumbs
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- ¼ cup monk fruit or coconut sugar
- 2 pounds low-fat cream cheese, softened at room temperature
- 1¼ cups monk fruit or coconut sugar
- 1½ tablespoons fresh lime juice
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- Whites of 6 large eggs
- 1 cup fresh raspberries
- 1 cup dairy-free whipped topping
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
TO MAKE THE CRUST:
- In a medium bowl, combine the graham crackers, melted butter, and monk fruit or coconut sugar.
- Place the mixture into a 9″ or 6″ round cheesecake pan and bake for 10 minutes.
TO MAKE THE FILLING:
- In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese and monk fruit or coconut sugar until smooth.
- Add the lime juice and salt; continue to beat until smooth.
- Add the egg whites one at a time, beating after each addition.
- Pour the filling over the crust and bake for 50 to 60 minutes.
- Remember to turn the cheesecake halfway through the cooking process.
- Refrigerate 4 to 6 hours before serving.
- Top with the raspberries and whipped topping.
Berry Good Stuffed French Toast
- 2 tablespoons low-sugar raspberry preserves
- 1 tablespoon fresh red raspberries
- 2 tablespoons cream cheese
- 2 large slices whole wheat bread
- ½ cup liquid egg whites
- Nonstick cooking spray
- 2 tablespoons dairy-free whipped topping
- 1 mint leaf
- In a small bowl, mix the preserves, raspberries, and cream cheese together until smooth.
- Spread the mixture onto one side of one slice of bread and cover with the other slice to make a sandwich.
- Pour the egg whites into a bowl. Dip and soak both sides of the sandwich in the eggs.
- Coat a nonstick pan with cooking spray and warm over medium heat.
- Cook the sandwich on each side for approximately 2 to 3 minutes, or until the egg is cooked and the sandwich is golden brown.
- Garnish with the whipped topping and mint leaf.
Italian Lentil Soup
Lentils are a great source of protein and taste amazing in this soup, which is similar to the one my Grandmother Rosemary made often on our family ranch in Gilroy, California. She added mini pasta shells, the kind used in macaroni salad. This is major comfort food for me…. I sincerely hope you enjoy it as much as my family and I have. Swap the chicken stock for vegetable stock to make this a vegetarian option. I like to soak the lentils overnight, but if you don’t have time, soak them for 1 hour and use an additional 2 to 3 cups of water to simmer the soup.
- 1 pound lentils
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 large onion, diced 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 8 cups low-sodium chicken stock
- 1 can (14.5 ounces) diced tomatoes
- 1 can (15 ounces) tomato sauce
- Fine sea salt and ground black pepper
- 3 tablespoons minced fresh oregano (optional)
- 3 tablespoons 0% or 2% Greek yogurt (optional)
- Cover the lentils with water and soak overnight.
- Drain the lentils and set aside.
- Heat the oil in a medium or large pot (at least 6 quarts) over medium heat.
- Add the dried oregano, onion, and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes.
- Add the stock, 8 cups of water (increase the water to 10 to 11 cups if the lentils were not soaked overnight), the tomatoes and tomato sauce.
- Bring to a gentle boil and cook for several minutes.
- Add the lentils, return to a gentle boil and cook until the lentils fat
Hopefully you enjoy these recipes, I’d love to hear if you try them. Take the time to laugh and laugh often! Laughing decreases pain, may help your heart and lungs, promotes muscle relaxation, and can reduce anxiety. Remember that positive emotions can decrease stress hormones and build emotional strength so stay positive, check in on your friends and family, and pray for one another!