How to optimize your health while you're quarantined at home

Experts share 11 ways you can gently boost your physical and mental wellbeing.
chinese woman preparing food at home
If you do one thing, eat more vegetables. Getty Images stock

Every morning, and most afternoons, my kids and I walk our dog Daisy. It’s not what I would call a workout — Daisy is more interested in sniffing than sprinting. But as we walk, we’ll spot ducks, geese and sometimes deer. Lilac blossoms scent the air, and traffic noise is down, so we can hear the birds singing. We get a chance to chat.

These walks are one thing I’m doing right during this pandemic, according to experts. “Going outdoors is good for people’s souls. The earth is still chugging on, spring has come and the leaves are green. That’s very reassuring. I ask my patients to try to go outside at least once a day,” says Dr. Kathryn A. Boling, a primary care provider at Mercy Personal Physicians at Lutherville in Lutherville, Maryland.

If you can’t walk outdoors safely, maybe there’s another way you can get some fresh air and sunshine. Dietitian Sharon Palmer, author of "Plant Powered for Life", says she’s seen more people doing yoga, and she’s been taking her dumbbells, kettlebell and mat outside for her workouts.

11 ways to maintain your health in quarantine

Spending time outdoors isn’t the only thing that can help optimize your health while you’re coping with the pandemic. Here’s what experts say to try:

1. Calm your nervous system.

“It’s easy to feel overwhelmed or flustered within the context of a lot of change,” says Beth Darnall, associate professor and psychologist at Stanford University School of Medicine. Even 30 seconds or a minute of deep breathing can help. “Breathe slowly and deeply to reset your nervous system and get that stress level down-regulated. You’ll feel more like yourself.”

2. You might also want to try yoga, meditation or long baths.

“Try whatever you find helps you reset and center yourself,” Darnall says.

3. Lean on your routines to boost your energy.

“I’m a big fan of resetting our energy. We’re in it for the endurance — this is no sprint. We need to recharge our batteries,” says Susan Bernstein, a licensed social worker in Connecticut and Massachusetts and an adjunct faculty member at Boston University. As things continue to change, our routines can help us adjust. “If you have a nice routine that’s working you only have to tweak it, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” she says.

4. Connect with people as much as you need to.

The right amount of social connection is different for each of us, Darnall says: “For some people, that may mean less social contact and finding more time alone.” Other people crave the company of others.

5. Manage your blood pressure, diabetes and other health conditions.

If you have chronic health problems, it could be harder for you to fight COVID 19 if you get sick. “If you can get these things under control now you have a much better chance of staying healthy, or not having as dire consequences, if you get COVID,” Boling says.

6. Keep the coronavirus out of your home.

Those of us who aren’t at high risk are probably venturing out to grocery stores and pharmacies, and bringing in the mail. When you get home after these activities, Boling recommends washing your hands, putting everything away, washing your hands again, and wiping down any surfaces you touched or where you set down bags, letters or packages.

7. Stick with your home-cooking habit.

Takeout is fine, as a treat. But the meals we’re cooking at home are probably healthier choices. “Research shows that the average meal people prepare at home — even without trying to be healthy — is lower in sugar, fat, calories and sodium than the average restaurant meal,” Palmer says. Portion sizes are smaller at home, too.

8. Eat with intention.

Being home all the time can lead to mindless eating. “When you’re not on a schedule you might grab something and sit at your desk or watch TV,” Palmer says. Instead, “Sit down together at mealtimes and enjoy your food.”

9. Savor the foods of the season.

Springtime vegetables and fruit like asparagus, peas, lettuces, and strawberries are starting to hit the markets. “We’re on the cusp of getting all this gorgeous produce, and that can make your meals so healthful,” Palmer says. “If you do one thing, eat more vegetables. That would be huge — they have antioxidants, fiber, vitamins, and minerals, and they’re taking the place of something that’s less healthy.”

10. Seek help if you’re struggling, even a little bit.

You don’t have to wait until you’re facing big problems to seek ways to ease your stress or to talk to a mental health professional. “Think of it as wanting to explore ways to optimize mental health,” Darnall says.

11. Think about what would make you feel better.

“It’s important to know what you need right now. Do you need some reassurance? Time with your best friend? Laughter? To sit down and figure out your finances? Make sure you carve out time so you can voice your need and set a time to get that need met,” Bernstein says.