Living through and experiencing a pandemic like COVID-19 has brought about many changes and adjustments in our lives. Some of these habits that we picked up during COVID-19 may have a negative impact on your health. The good news is, it is not too late to undo them and focus on healthy living. Here are three unhealthy COVID-19 lifestyle habits that you should get rid of and more importantly tips to converting these habits into healthy ones!

I. Disruptive sleep patterns

Perhaps the uncertainties and ongoing COVID-19 pandemic continues to worry and stress you. Or perhaps the increasing work responsibilities or the working from home with no distinction for work-life balance has led to more anxiety, and you realise your sleep is impacted.

According to a recent study undertaken by Philips[1], 57% of the 1,000 Singaporeans surveyed said that the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted on their sleep cycle, with 28% sleeping lesser each night comparatively to before. Only 21% of the respondents feel well-rested most of the time when waking up in the morning[2].

It is recommended for individuals to have at least seven to nine hours of sleep per night. Do not underestimate the power of a good night’s sleep. Having adequate sleep plays an important role in your health and maintaining your body’s immune system. Being well-rested is also essential for productivity and your overall wellness.

Here are some ways to cultivate better sleep habits:

  • If you are having issues with an earlier bedtime, one way to transition to an earlier bedtime is through planning a gradual sleep schedule. Gradually ease yourself into this desired bedtime. You may start for instance at 12.00am, then 11.45pm and progressively until you hit your desired bedtime.
  • Reduce your screen time before going to bed. The blue light emitted from phones, tablets, laptops and TVs can delay the release of sleep-inducing melatonin, increasing your alertness and affecting your body clock.
  • Give yourself some time to wind down before sleeping. Engage in activities that will help to calm your senses such as aromatherapy, meditation, taking a warm shower or listening to soft music.
  • Re-organise and keep your work space and sleeping area separated for greater peace of mind, preventing that association to work, keeping those work stresses and anxieties at bay while you focus on sleep.
  • Try journaling - penning down your thoughts and worries on paper to relieve some stress. This can help organise your thoughts better and help your mind to relax before sleeping.
  • Reduce your intake on caffeine. Be mindful of what time you last consumed caffeine, perhaps reduce that thrice daily coffee break or take de-caffeinated options.
  • Keep track your sleep cycle and sleep quality using sleep apps, whether you use a tracking device or free applications on your mobile phone.

II. Unhealthy diet

The pandemic has altered many of our daily routines, from sleeping habits to even our diet choices. With the surge in food delivery options, as well as the need for convenience when working from home, ordering takeout or grabbing instant food is now the go-to and easy option for many working adults. At the same time, some may experience a loss in appetite or find themselves skipping meals more often as they lose track of time when working from home, resulting in less than ideal eating habits.

It is important to be mindful of the food consumed and how it is being prepared. An increased intake in fatty or sugary food may have a negative impact especially on those with chronic illnesses such as diabetes. Having the right diet regularly can give you the energy to excel better at work, give you a healthier glow and help you maintain a healthy body and weight.

Here are some ways to kick-start a proper diet and keep your nutrition in check:

  • Start the day with a good breakfast. It is known as the most important meal of the day because we need calories for energy ahead of the day’s work. When you derive these calories from nutritious food, you start the day off with the right energy.
  • Choose water over sugary or caffeinated drinks. Keeping yourself hydrated aids in digestion and prevents many medical conditions, especially diabetes, constipation, hypertension, kidney stones and urinary tract infection.
  • Incorporate more fresh fruits and vegetables in your meal. Your body needs vitamins and nutrients.
  • Snack mindfully and healthily. There are many options today for healthy snacks whether its fruits or low-calorie options of your favourite snacks. Try whole grain crackers, low sugar granola, grapes, apple slices or cucumber sticks for a balanced snack.
  • Be focused when you’re snacking, no multitasking. When you are multitasking while eating, chances are you will forget to limit yourself and the next thing you know, you have finished one big bag of chips. Set aside time to finish your snack before going back to work or watching a show.
  • Choose ingredients with Healthier Choice symbol when you are preparing your meals.
  • Consider options for healthy meals such as salad or soup instead of fried or fast food when ordering take-outs.

III. Physical inactivity

For many of us the lockdowns associated with COVID-19 has kept us indoors for the longest period of time, which may have caused our lifestyle to change to a more sedentary one. Did you know that physical inactivity can lead to a decline in muscle strength, physical endurance and general health? The lack of physical movements may also lead to a gradual loss of psychomotor coordination.

Exercising is one of the essential ways to managing health risk factors such as high blood pressure, high sugar abnormalities and obesity, to which are large contributors of many chronic diseases.  Keeping active also helps to slow ageing and increase life expectancy because you build healthier metabolic, skeletal, cardiovascular and immune system. On top of that, your brain releases endorphins, dopamine and serotonin when you exercise. These neurochemical responses have beneficial effect on your mental health and are effective in preventing depression.

According to the guidelines set by WHO, adults aged 18-64 should target to do at least 75 minutes of intensive work outs or 150 minutes of moderately-intensive physical activity in a week. It is important to listen to your body to know if the exercise suits you. If you are out of breath and experiencing pain, perhaps the exercise is too intense for you.

Here are some ways to get into an active lifestyle:

  • Start off with low-intensity activities such as yoga or barre instead of circuit classes like HIIT if you have not engage in exercising for a long period of time.
  • If you do not have long chunks of time to spare, take a daily 15 minute stroll after dinner along your neighbourhood or dinner place. Even brief bouts of activity are still beneficial. What is important is to make regular physical activity a part of your lifestyle.
  • Grab a trusted friend or two to exercise together and motivate each other. Social connection is also a great determinant of good health.
  • Reduce your sitting time. Take an occasional 5-10 minutes’ walk or invest in a standing desk while working. This helps to lower health risk, reduced back pain and improve your mood and energy.
  • Set gradual physical goals that are achievable. It is ok to take it slow and celebrate every little achievement along the way.
  • Always remember that fitness is not linear. You may hit a personal best and still underperform the next time. It is important to factor in your current state of mind as well as your physical condition and circumstances.

As we get rid of unhealthy lifestyle habits, there are also good habits that we should continue to practice such as proper hygiene and safety measures. As we progressively achieve a safer society through active COVID-19 testing and vaccination, we should still continue to wear our mask in public, sanitise our hands regularly and maintain safe distancing. Cultivating these good habits will aid in the fight against this pandemic and help to keep higher risk groups such as the elderly and those who are unable to receive the vaccination to be protected. While we may not be able to control the outcomes of COVID-19, we most certainly can take control over our personal health and wellbeing today.

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