How to Stay Heart Healthy During Lockdown

Family walking together on the beach

The promise of a vaccine is our light of hope during this lockdown period. But there’s no denying a certain level of anxiety we still feel every day or that most of us are weary. As we continue to weather this disruption to our normal routines, it’s only natural to gravitate to the couch, our TV friends and comfort foods.

And while those behaviors may make us feel warm and fuzzy in the moment, if you’re at increased risk for heart disease, your lifestyle has to be a high priority. Fortunately, with a few key lifestyle changes, it’s possible to stay heart-healthy while spending more time at home than ever before.

Eat Healthier, Especially Takeout

In recent months, you may have stocked up on huge frozen pizzas or ordered quite a bit of takeout from local favorites. We understand — after all, we’re all in the same boat. It’s quite common to try to quiet all the stress we’re experiencing with each bite. But the start of a new year is a perfect time to hit the reset button, make more careful food choices and get back on track with safeguarding your heart. Here are a few ideas:

Ask questions: Restaurant workers are trained to explain ingredients, describe preparations and suggest substitutions.

Choose wisely: Small tweaks to your meal, like selecting baked or grilled versus fried or adding more vegetables and whole foods, can go a long way. Also consider asking for dressings, sauces and condiments on the side.

Dessert: Try fresh fruits instead of desserts packed with fat and sugar to satisfy your sweet tooth.

Look for cues on menus: The American Heart Association’s “heart icon” and other symbols are used by restaurants to indicate heart healthy options. Nutritional information may also be posted online. Choose lowest sodium, saturated fat, trans fat and added sugars.

Save some for later: Cutting big portions in half, and enjoying the leftovers later is a great way to ensure you’re eating healthier portions.

Shop mindfully

In 2020, we’ve all been forced to cook more than ever before. Even if it isn’t usually your thing, a simple shift in your thinking can make it fun. Use this time to teach yourself to cook and to try new things.

When shopping for your heart healthy groceries, consider buying mostly fresh produce. Experts recommend filling the majority of your shopping cart with fresh fruits, vegetables and whole foods. Go for healthy basics, especially low-sodium choices. read nutrition labels carefully. Keep sugary treats under control.

De-Stress with Exercise

The pandemic has made us all face an uncomfortable level of uncertainty and living in lockdown has presented us with many new challenges — and anxiety, depression and anger are all normal emotional responses to stressors like job loss, financial burden, fear of the virus, separation from our friends and loved ones and managing children without schooling or childcare help.

A little physical activity every day will help you cope and stay positive.

Exercise with the TV: Walking is just fine, even if you’re walking in place during TV time. Steps are steps, and they relieve tension. If you’ve got a bike, get out there. Find what works for you and do it regularly — just a little every day. You can even lift weights, do push-ups or jog in place. Don’t forget your core: Try a few glute squeezes, pelvic floor exercises and abdominal contractions.

Get the family out after dinner: Take a walk, get a sport going or play a game together after your meals. Don’t just head for the TV room.

Get your garden going: All home projects — including yard work and gardening which give the added benefit of providing your family some much-needed vitamin D and fresh air — include healthy physical activity. Transform a piece of your yard, try container gardening or join a local community garden.

Keep your kids active: It allows them to burn off pent-up energy and is good for your mental wellbeing. Active toys like balls, skateboards, jump ropes and hula hoops are timeless.

Play with pets: With just a ball, stick or piece of string, you can satisfy almost any pet.

Pamper Yourself

To lighten your stress, it helps to indulge in a little self-care. You deserve to enjoy your life, even with basics like sleep. Your heart health will benefit from the positive slant, as will your mental health. It’s important to make sure you:

Connect with your friends and family: Even if it can only be on the phone or laptop, those closest to you understand it’s a tough time and know how to best support you.

Dance: Put on some music and take a dance break. Your kids will love it — and it will lift your spirits and ensure you keep your body moving throughout the day.

Distract yourself: Take up a hobby, like learning the ukulele, or practice a new skill. You’ll feel good about it and will likely have stories to tell your friends.

Kick bad habits: Use this time to cut back on your alcohol, caffeine or tobacco intake. It will be good for you physically and emotionally.

Laugh a little: Find humor where you can. You’ll feel better, even if you’re alone, laughing out loud.

Let yourself snooze: If you’re under stress, you need the rest. Don’t feel guilty getting seven to nine hours at night. If you need help with insomnia, remember that exercise can help.

Organize your ‘to-do” list: Don’t get overwhelmed by big projects. Make “one step at a time” your motto.

Slow down and plan: Allow yourself time to process your responsibilities and figure out what to do.

Remember, Light is Everywhere

At Luminis Health, our goal is to ensure every aspect of your health. If you feel stressed or alone in this, remember help is always nearby. Friends and family can lend a hand and are open to everything from simply listening to your concerns to caring for your kids when you need a break.

And when it comes to your physical and mental wellbeing, we’ve also got your back. We’re happy to answer any questions and to provide medical guidance. Just let us know exactly how we can help. Call 443-481-1358 to talk with a member of our caring team who can guide you to the doctors, nurses and other medical professionals who can best meet your needs.

If you believe you are having a heart attack, go to your emergency room immediately. Don’t be concerned about COVID-19; you will be kept safe from infection. It’s critical that you don’t ignore symptoms like chest pain.

Juan Cordero, MD
Juan Cordero, MD, is a physician with Luminis Health Clinical Enterprise.