How I stay healthy during COVID-19 pandemic
As I cracked open a bottle of wine and a chocolate Easter egg this weekend, I promised myself to stay mindful on what have been some of the best days, recently, health-wise. So, having learned a little from these very strange weeks indeed, here is my little tale on how I managed to stay healthy during COVID-19. So far, fingers crossed! Pandemic or not – here are my healthy living changes which started in all earnesty as lent, coincided with COVID-19 and will hopefully become long-term life changes.
Table of Contents
In the past, I have not taken lent terribly serious. Most years, I would not drink any alcohol and skip festivities. Buy the end of lent, I would really look forward to an alcoholic drink, and to partying (mildly) again. This year, I thought, I was going to put some more effort in.
And while the carnival season was in full swing and may have merrily helped spread the virus a little, I cooked up a plan for lent. When how to stay healthy during COVID-19 hadn’t even crossed my mind, I wanted to be sustainably more healthy than I had been in recent years.
Not only would I be a temporary teetotaller, but I would also tackle my biggest unhealthy habit. Sugar! So, no refined sugar, no stevia, no sweeteners. Nothing. Apart from eating my half of a very tasty cheesecake our neighbour made for us that we could not turn down, and a piece of cake in a stressful situation at work, I stuck to it.
I may have never managed to read the “Confessions” of St. Augustine as originally intended during lent, but I stuck to my food restriction. As I watched the eerily lone Solemn Easter Sunday Mass online from St. Peters Basilica in a hangover from wine and chocolate, I decided that sugar-free would be part of my life from now.
Nutrition and how to stay healthy during COVID-19
I have a problem with sugar. And salty snacks.
Sugar and processed snack foods – the main culprits of my poor diet
Not only do I love these poorly nutritious foods, but I have a very bad family history of diabetes. My granddad became insulin-dependent at around 50. My father died from a heart attack in his early 50’s with poorly controlled diabetes. And me? Well, I go along the same lines although I have so far managed to keep it at bay and my blood sugar under control.
So, while doing lent, the only source of sugar were some fruit and a bunch of dates. Unless it was my chocolate-craving delusion speaking, fresh dates and raw cocoa nibs impressively tasted a bit like chocolate.
I’ve been 99% vegetarian for 30 years now. I rarely eat fresh fish and seafood, so I am not a full vegetarian. In the past months, I have also steered towards a mostly vegan diet by omitting milk and eggs.
Maintaining a mostly vegan diet
I almost never eat shop bought eggs but a 300km round trip to my relatives is a bit much to procure eggs from happy hens. If I buy eggs, I ensure they are free range and from farms where make chicks are raised. Bloody expensive, but the only way I eat eggs now.
I also love ewe and goats cheese, and I eat a little of that. Other than that – I cook with olive oil, and use oat or coconut substitutes if I need milk. Most of our meals contain over 50% vegetables, and we eat raw salad at least three times a week. I try to buy mostly organic bread, and have stopped buying other baked goods (croissants, cake) altogether. I will make exceptions when on holiday or passing a particularly good bakery.
For reasons of convenience (and taste) I am leaning to a Mediterranean – Middle Eastern Diet. Lots of pulses and whole grains instead of flour and bread. Lots of spices instead of salt. My cooking is really simple, as I cook 90% of our meals and I work pretty much full-time. I have read two nutrition books that I highly recommend, to cook the way I cook/have booked for the past ten years. They are Anti-Cancer: A New Way of Life by David Servan-Schreiber and Reverse your Diabetes by David Cavan. Both are older books, both are based on science and proparate changing your eating habits rather than being specific diet books.
My most important rules for my cooking
Consume lots of fresh fruit and vegetables. I prefer my fruit and vegetables organic and seasonal. But if I want to eat pineapple and the pineapples look good, I buy some.
Eat a lot of fruit and vegetables raw. Yup salad three times a week.
Reduce sugar. Forget sugar substitutes. Okay, the science is in agreement that Stevia, Xylitol and Co. aren’t bad for you. My favourites to keep things sweet during lent were fresh dates and bananas. I just try to reduce sugar altogether. Meaning, if I want a yoghurt, I get a natural coconut yoghurt and put my own fresh fruit in.
Being a vegetarian rocks anyway.
Limit alcohol to weekends and special occasions.
Avoid “light” and “slimline” products. They are often full of artificial sweeteners and emulgators.
Avoid processed foods. Saves a ton of money too. The only processed food I use are vegetarian mince, vegetarian burgers/fillets and jam. Oh, and crisps and all sorts of savoury nibbles. Big weakness here.
Thanks to the sugar-free period, I actually managed to lose 2-3kg without any further restrictions. It is not a lot, and I have been extremely sedentary, but I’m pleased my waistbands are a lot more relaxed now.
What’s tons better than the actual weight loss is that I feel physically a lot better! It’s hard to describe, but I am a lot less sluggish. My unspecific hip and knee pain that’s plagued me for the best part of a year and that kept me from doing the long bicycle rides I so enjoy is almost completely gone. This cannot be just down to the small weight loss. It is so hard to not eat chocolate, but if the reward for doing so is to be pain-free, that’s a small price to pay.
From now on, I will limit my chocolate intake, which is really my weakness, to three nights a week on the weekend. Same for alcohol. I will exercise more now I feel a lot better . I’ll see how that goes.
Without wanting to go into a discourse about their benefits, I just want to say I don’t do them much. I have a jar of chlorella knocking around, as well as a jar of spirulina powder (which I bought to colour soap, but hey, we can eat it too). I used to take Vitamin D and C pills in the winter and I have some Biotin pills to encourage my fine frizzy hair to grow but so far I have not seen much benefit. Also, I bought turmeric capsules because they said to be good for maintaining stable blood sugar.
But honestly, I am not a supplement expert. I prefer to get most of my nutrients from actual foods.
Vitamin B12? Well, as an almost-vegan it might be a good idea to get blood levels checked at some point. No way am I going to take a shot. I’d rather try and change my nutrition forst by eating eggs and some fresh fish if I had to.
Smoking and how to stay healthy during COVID-19
Apart from the odd cigarette or water pipe, I have been a non-smoker all my life and I maintain it is one of the biggest things you can do for your health. Even if you are a smoker and it may take decades to heal your lungs, stopping now will, within days, improve your health and immune system. A study from China shows smokers were twice as likely to get serious lung disease from COVID-19 when compared to non-smokers. This may be due to the state of the smokers lungs and/or the finding that smoking increases expression of the Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme receptor at which the SARS-CoV-2 docks.
Also by smoking or vaping you automatically touch your face more/ bring your fingers close to your mouth and nose.
As a healthcare worker, I have been rather busy to begin with. All elective work in Germany has been postponed for at least two months, with hospital beds being reserved for COVID-19 cases. I voluntarily switched to a “hot site” early on. Most of what I do is elective work and that dried up lightning fast. I helped establish a small test centre and to be honest, I did feel weird about it for a day or two – more about tackling serious illness and being put of my specialist comfort zone, but that settled quickly. In fact, I felt safer wearing the full protective equipment than working in my other office.
Politically, there is a lot going on, a lot in the news, new publications out every day. I don’t feel this blog is an appropriate place to discuss these things. All I want to say is that despite plenty of struggles, despite the healthcare services being run in large for-profit, Germany appears to have just gotten round to avoid complete a complete burn and a death rate associated with a developing country, not a modern European nation.
We do not know what the future will bring. And while there are differing opinions on how transmissible SARS-CoV-2 is (okay, it looks like a real mud fight in the German media!), health care might never look the same again!
Distancing and sanitizing measures
Same as every one else, I adhere to government rules which, to me, appear very sensible. The general sentiment is they came about three weeks too late, though.
I work in a health clinic/hospital, and my husband has worked from home for as long as I know him… so not much change here! Therefore, I have to go out to work every day so I do all our shopping but limit myself to one trip a week, perhaps with a small dash to buy bread added if we run out of bread. I always wear one of my home-made face masks except when I’m really out in nature. The thing is not to adjust it or touch your face without washing/sanitizing hands, so I always have a small bottle of Turkish Kolonya on me.
We’re lucky in that most of our friends live far away, and we’re used to not seeing them for months. And, most luckily, there are two of us sitting this out together in a sufficiently big enough house with a small garden to exercise in.
Because I work in the hospital, and, despite all the protective measures, may or may not bring bugs home, I pretty much strip down in our cellar and leave my outside clothes there. Then I take a shower and wash my hair and change into clothes I wear around the house and garden.
Or, give that a big fat zero! This is one area where I wish I could do more, because it is so beneficial for overall health. Because of pretty debilitating knee and hip pain, I have barely exercised all year. I saw the osteopath for some back pain after a busy weekend in Barcelona where I picked up our third cat, who also noted the hip problem and worked on that.
So, to my great delight, when I tried to cycle now, the pain was minimal.
Starting to cycle again – slowly
The past weekend and yesterday, we have gone on little cycle rides around the house again. Not wanting to move far from home, we have taken some circuitous routes near home. There are loads of bike paths to choose from. Yesterday we did a rather pathetic 15km ride along the canal and to a nearby village – a good start! We also take our own food and drink and chose circuitous routes as we want to avoid hopping onto a train with our bicycles. We’ll get to know the surrounding country side really well!
And for the first time this year, I saw a SUP on our little lake! I would love one, but most of what’s on offer are inflatable SUPs and most are really expensive – you can buy a used sailing dinghy for that! I wanted to buy myself one as a reward for passing an important exam, but never found one that I really, really wanted. Having rented various inflatable and hardboard SUPs over the years, I will personally keep looking for a hardboard all-round SUP, but I’m in no rush.
We’d taken to 30-minute walks after work at least three times a week but abandoned it when we both got the ‘flu in February. This is one thing we need to reinstate! It’s not a lot, but a nice break in the early afternoon, to transition from work/commute into working in the house/garden.
Mental health – Stay healthy during COVID-19
Two or three things working in my favour are that I don’t live alone and that I still have a job and no immediate dependents. Despite having nearly always lived on my own until late 2016, I now live with my husband and three cats, and I could not say which one were better for keeping on an even keel!
In terms of husband, I think I am just lucky, because it was never my intention to live alone. Things just fell into place nearly five years ago, without me doing much differently than before. I’m still insecure, emotionally needy, prone to mood swings and judgmental. I guess I have finally met the right person that matched and saw my good qualities as well.
No specific practices – but a fairly routine lifestyle
I don’t really practice much yoga or meditation or see a therapist. Having read a few books on mental health, but couldn’t say about a single one “you MUST read this!”. Having a stable job and home has probably largely contributed to me being quite calm in all this. Knowing how to protect myself. I had extremely close contact with a patient who a week later tested positive for COVID-19 yet my viral swab returned negative. I waved my results round work saying “hoho good basic hygiene comrades” but deep down I thought well, a very bad thing already happened yet I escaped unscathed.
My mother is currently stuck in Spain with much stricter curfews and an elderly husband and they are doing okay. I was worried about them, but knowing my mother, she would just deal with it and not panic. And after about four weeks in a small apartment, they are finally flying home this week (and into another two weeks of quarantine, albeit with a nice private garden and plenty of weeding and hoeing to keep them busy).
I guess as a medic I have built up a certain resilience over the years. This is helping now. And I have bad days too, but I know they will pass.
None of our jobs is likely to go completely so job and mortgage payments are safe for now. But who knows?
My job is unlikely to go, but my “regular” job is just 75% full-time. It’s of my own making, and in the past, I did freelance work to generate extra income. However, with COVID-19, there is little to no demand for such work. Also, it would bring the ethical/legal problem that if I DID pick up COVID-19 from somewhere, I would need to prove I always used the right equipment property at all times. While doing so it one thing, proving it could be tricky. I am making preparations to freelance as soon as there is demand and gathering my documents to obtain another licence with further freelance options – after COVID-19 or should there suddenly be a demand because of an sudden influx in severe cases.
We’ve made enough savings by living pretty frugally, and right now, our only big outgoings are mortgage, some pension plans and health insurance. While health insurance payments are pretty much mandatory, I think we could take “payment holidays” from both if we really had to. Living near a big city in my single and renting years meant I am pretty well stocked for clothes.
I know it sounds really boring to live frugally and make savings, but I am glad I did now! Sure, some of my stock market investments have really tanked (and partially recovered) but some of the more “boring” investments haven’t. I’m close to a six months rainy day fund now, and seeing the current situation, I think I might try to build rainy day savings for an entire year!
How do you stay healthy during COVID-19?
Have you followed a certain diet, mental health advice, or just making your own schedule to feel good? Where in the world are you and how has SARS-CoV-2 impacted on your life? I’d love to hear from you!
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