Health

How to Stay Well While Stuck Indoors This Winter

We asked experts for advice on keeping up mental and physical fitness in the winter of Covid.

The pandemic has already been one long Netflix binge. Add in cold-and-flu season plus winter weather and, yeah, that’s not going to change. While staying inside could be good for your immune system, it could be bad for your health and fitness in other ways. Which is why we asked professionals in the wellness world for tips on taking care of yourself during what’s likely to be a long indoor season.

The Body Scan

Pandemic behavior—anxiety, drinking, snapping at your kids—does not always reflect the best you. It may be time to take a step back and “regulate yourself,” says Fairfax psychiatrist Jennifer Santoro.

One way to do this is via a body scan. “Take about 20 seconds to check in with yourself and ask, ‘How am I feeling? Where am I holding tension? How’s my breathing and how’s my heart rate?’ ” says Santoro. If your body’s holding abnormal tension, create some distance from the situation that’s making you uneasy. Santoro suggests telling yourself a story about what’s in front of you: “You step back, you observe, you describe what you’re seeing, and that can create a sort of buffer.”

The Mindfulness Routine

For anxious folks who want to dip their toe into mindfulness, Woo Woo Company founder Alice Hu recommends rote activities such as walking, drawing, or yoga instead of sitting silently. Repetitive actions like these help declutter your mind so you can become aware of your thoughts and how they affect you. If you want, you can work your way up to sitting quietly for a more traditional meditation. (To help with this, Hu suggests apps such as Headspace or Calm.) The ultimate goal is “to be the observer, to start to notice that you are not your thoughts [and] there is separation,” says Hu.

Journaling is another mindfulness practice. Hu recommends writing about an intention, making a gratitude list, or scribbling a stream-of-consciousness. Whatever your route, it’s important you make it a regular activity to reap the benefits. Hu suggests an accountability group text and sending the group an emoji after each daily practice.

Hand Health

Dry hands may seem like the least of your worries these days, but chapped skin can crack and become painful—and a symbol of lockdown gloominess. To keep hands healthy amid all the winter scrubbing and sanitizing, Lauren Dunne, cofounder and CEO of Varnish Lane nail salon, recommends washing with warm water, as hot water strips skin’s protective natural oil layer. And glove up when washing dishes or cleaning the house—the chemicals in products such as Lysol wipes can dry out hands.

Dunne also suggests applying lotion after washing your hands and, because alcohol can dry skin, after using sanitizer. Also make sure you slather on lotion before bed so your hands heal overnight. Don’t forget cuticles: Dunne recommends a cuticle oil, as all of the washing will affect them, too.

Face Care

Trips to the aesthetician aren’t what they used to be. But you can give yourself a home facial about once a month. To start, Arleen Lamba, founder of the facial-bar mini-chain Glo30, suggests using a water-based wipe on your face. Then do a double cleanse, massaging an oil or balm cleanser onto dry skin. Leave that on as you apply a second one, dampening your hands and using a gel solution for normal skin or a cream-based cleanser for sensitive or dry skin. Rinse your face and then use a gentle physical exfoliant—Lamba recommends something containing bamboo extract or blueberries. Be gentle so you don’t create micro-tears in the skin. (She suggests skipping that step if your face is very sensitive.)

Afterward, wipe your face with a peel pad containing alpha-hydroxy- or beta-hydroxy and leave it on for five to ten minutes. Thoroughly remove the solution with cold water, then you can use a product with aloe—Lamba says at least 92 percent—and a honey-based mask to nourish your skin and help fight inflammation. Leave the mask on for five to ten minutes. To finish, Lamba suggests wiping your face with a nonalcoholic toner, then applying moisturizer, eye cream, and, if you’re going outside, SPF.

The Balanced Diet

Even though you may not be recovering from the holiday office-party circuit, it’s still likely you indulged over the course of a few virtual tacky-sweater shindigs. If you’re trying to reprioritize healthy eating, it’s essential to set achievable goals and to plan, says Maggie Neola, a dietitian at Barnard Medical Center in DC. If you already have your meals scheduled for the week, you’re less likely to stray: Neola recommends including about ten healthy recipes in a weekly rotation and stocking your freezer with nutritious last-minute options instead of ordering pizza. (Neola’s quick go-to? Black-bean chili made with a jar of salsa, a can of beans, and a bag of frozen corn.)

And if proximity to the pantry is causing you to load up on junk, rethink your layout. “Shaping your environment is super-important,” says Neola. She suggests put­ting healthy options at eye level in the pantry so you’re likelier to reach for them. For snacks, Neola favors cut fruit, air-popped popcorn, and roasted chickpeas or edamame. But don’t mindlessly munch at your WFH desk. “A lot of times, we think we’re hungry, but were actually just thirsty or bored,” says Neola. If it’s the latter, opt for a seltzer or kombucha.

For cold/flu/pandemic season, pick foods high in vitamin C and zinc to boost your immune system. Think dark leafy greens, citrus, and bell peppers for vitamin C, and nuts, seeds, beans, and lentils for zinc. Dealing with insomnia and anxiety? You might cut back on caffeine and alcohol, Neola says.

The At-Home Workout

Sweat DC owner Gerard Burley recommends buying sliders, which are pads that glide along the floor, or resistance bands. Both are cost-effective, store easily, and can work for lower body, upper body, and core exercises. To use the sliders, Burley says to start in a plank with your feet on them, then move your body slightly forward and back for a lower-ab burn. You can also do a curtsy lunge on the sliders for a lower-body workout targeting the thighs.

As for the bands: Loop one around your ankles and take small steps from side to side or forward and back for a lower-body workout. You can also loop them around your wrists while in a high-plank position, moving your hands out wide and then back to shoulder width for an upper-body and core workout.

Sans equipment, pushups are always effective, says Burley—you can amp them up by lowering yourself for four counts, holding at the bottom for one count, pushing up, and repeating. For an effective full-body workout, do all these moves—pushups plus exercises with the sliders and resistance bands—for 30 seconds each, then repeat for five or six rounds.

Good Posture

Dealing with shoulder aches and back pain from your at-home work setup? Pilates Center of Rockville owner Aliyah Hatcher says pay attention to how you sit: Your feet should be planted firmly on the floor, with your spine in a neutral position. There should be a slight arch in your lower spine and neck, your upper back should be vaguely rounded, and your shoulders should be relaxed.

Select a chair that has a firm, flat surface that isn’t thickly padded or overly structured, says Hatcher, and adjust the seat so your hip joints are slightly higher than your knees. Don’t lean back on the chair—while it may take some getting used to, if your core is strong enough, you should be able to support the spine without leaning. If you really need support, Hatcher recommends putting a pillow beneath your shoulder blades, not the lower back. Make sure your eyes are looking straight ahead and are level with the top third of your computer screen. Also, your elbows should be slightly lower than your forearms to make sure your shoulders are relaxed, and your wrists should be in line with your forearms.

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Mimi Montgomery Washingtonian
Associate Editor

Mimi Montgomery joined Washingtonian in 2018. Her work has appeared in Outside Magazine, Washington City Paper, DCist, and PoPVille. Originally from North Carolina, she now lives in Petworth.