ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. – Following mandated stay-at-home and social distancing rules during the COVID-19 crisis is creating unique challenges for many individuals who are managing work, family and personal needs while still trying to stay healthy and not stress out or get too stir crazy. Health and nutrition experts at the Army Public Health Center have a number of recommendations to help keep you and your family on track.
Lt. Col. Leslie Roberson, a clinical psychologist and APHC behavioral health specialist, recognizes the challenges.
“Our family is spending more time together than usual due to COVID-19,” said Roberson. “Being together in close quarters can be challenging. Did I mention we are also sharing the internet with four teenagers and the internet is required for telework?”
Roberson recommends discussing daily work plans, especially when online meetings are occurring, so others in the household know when they need to be quiet.
“We have a freshman in the home and both my husband and I are teleworking,” said Sgt. 1st Class Sue Ellen Brown, the non-commissioned officer in charge of Pregnancy Postpartum Physical Training for Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington. “A good strategy that has worked for us is to maintain a schedule and enforcing our timelines for workout, personal hygiene, lunch, break, and also balancing when our dog Elle wants attention and love.
Sgt. 1st Class Jonathan K. Settle, APHC Health Promotion and Wellness Directorate NCOIC, is adapting well to telework.
“Teleworking has made it possible to spend more time with the family. I am able to pause for short moments to regroup,” said Settle. “I still work the required hours but am able to space my time out through the day leading to a better quality of life.”
APHC experts say another strategy for maintaining good general health and managing stress while working from home is to maintain physical fitness levels. Personal physical training should include a balance of cardiorespiratory (endurance) exercise and resistance training. And you don’t need a gym to get it done. For example, the Army physical readiness training app also provides two weeks of PRT sessions that can be done with or without equipment. These resources can be found on the ACFT website at https://www.army.mil/acft/.
“Each morning before work begins, I try to incorporate walking the family dogs 15 minutes, and I also try and spend 15 minutes walking the dogs during lunch,” said Roberson. “I use a fitness tracker daily to monitor steps I've taken to make me be accountable. If I have less than 10,000 steps a day, I try not to go to bed until that goal has been met.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines recommend that adults engage in 150 minutes per week of moderate activity (i.e. brisk walking, bike riding 10 to 12 mph) or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week (jogging at 6 mph or biking at 14 to 16 mph) or a combination of both. These can be found at https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/walking/index.htm).
These workouts can also be conducted while following recommended social distancing guidelines, according to APHC experts. Cardiorespiratory training can be performed indoors on a treadmill, stationary bike, or stairs, or outside by going on a walk, run, or bike around the neighborhood. Large empty parking lots at a neighborhood school, church or shopping center may allow one to walk/run without any close contact with others. Make sure to maintain social distancing (at least 6 feet) at all times. If walking or running on trails, try to go during times when it is less crowded.
Brown also has a good workout routine.
“We are working out in the mornings with our teenagers; which relieves a lot of stress,” said Brown. “I also workout on Fridays with our P3T Soldiers via Facebook live, which has been a learning experience within itself.”
Another critical part of staying healthy is good nutrition, which is one leg of the Army Performance Triad of sleep, activity and nutrition. Staying healthy during “stay-at-home” requirements involve three key considerations: Eating a rainbow of eight servings of fruits and vegetables, eat a balanced plate, and hydrate with water throughout the day.
“We have made a conscious effort not to buy junk food and only keep healthy or semi-healthy food at the house,” said Brown. “We’re also cooking food at home to keep it healthy and attempting not to order out.”
The Army P3 nutrition webpage offers more ideas for creating the rainbow at https://p3.amedd.army.mil/performance-learning-center/nutrition.
“The best thing to boost your immune system is to regularly eat a variety of foods with a focus on fruits and vegetables,” said Joanna Reagan, APHC registered dietitian. “Fruits and vegetables are extremely beneficial in disease prevention, making them nutritional powerhouses.”
Settle says he avoids stress eating by keeping healthy snacks around the house.
“We've never had many snacks in the house and when we do have snacks they usually consist of frozen grapes and chips,” said Settle. “When eating chips no one is allowed to eat out of the bag. All snacks are served in bowls to avoid eating the entire bag at one sitting.”
Eating a balanced plate is good for your immune system, said Reagan. She recommends focusing on nutrient rich foods while eating three balanced meals a day with healthy snacks. Key nutrients to help with immunity include Zinc, Vitamin C, Vitamin D, probiotic-rich foods, and omega 3-rich foods. Check out https://p3.amedd.army.mil/trending-topics/support-a-healthy-immune-system-with-p3 for more specifics.
Staying hydrated throughout the day can also help boost immunity. This is also pretty easy to do when hydrating is as easy as a trip to the fridge.
“Set a reoccurring alarm on your phone to remind you to drink water at regular intervals,” said Reagan. “Add lemon or lime slices and fresh fruit to increase flavor.”
The last pillar of P3 is sleep. This can be especially challenging during this stressful time, but it’s important for a fit body and mind. Sleep experts recommend seven or more hours of sleep a night.
“Skimping on sleep could adversely affect your immune system, leaving you susceptible to illness, while sleeping longer may help you resist infections” said Dr. Sara Alger, a sleep research scientist in the Center for Military Psychiatry and Neuroscience at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. “Additionally, your brain and body require sleep to process what you have learned and experienced during the day and to aid post-workout muscle recovery. Also, getting a good night’s sleep helps with emotion regulation, which is important during this stressful time.”
Alger recommends setting a consistent bed and wake time and avoiding caffeine at least six hours before going to bed.
The final challenge of mandatory stay-at-home orders is in the name – social distancing. Plus, you’re stuck in your house alone, with family or maybe a roommate. How do you keep it fun and also stay connected with friends and family, whether across the country or a few miles away?
“I keep telling myself to stay in some type of shape mentally and physically because this will not last forever,” said Brown. “For my mental/spiritual state we are still attending church via Facebook Live, working out and keeping a routine at home. I also have personal time and family time.”
The internet makes it easier to stay connected, said Dr. Anna Courie, an APHC nurse and project officer.
“We maintain social connections by talking to friends on Facebook,” said Roberson. “We also make sure we call family and close friends weekly. For the upcoming Easter Holiday, we will FaceTime or Skype with family located in other states to wish them a happy holiday.”
Courie is also a big advocate for military families taking control of their needs and accessing those resources available in their communities.
“Army communities have a ton of resources available to support military families during difficult times,” said Courie. “You can access those resources via the Army Community Resource Guide.”
All Army families can download the CRG app via the iTunes/Google Play stores or access it at https://crg.amedd.army.mil.
Another resource promoting and sustaining healthy lifestyles during this time is the Army Wellness Center. AWCs offer a crucial link for health resources to the broader Army community. Local AWCs are providing a variety of services in an online format to continue their support of the health and wellbeing of active-duty service members, adult family members, retirees, and Department of the Army civilians. Services are free and all AWC locations can be found at https://phc.amedd.army.mil/organization/hpw/Pages/ArmyWellnessCenters.aspx.
Settle says he likes doing puzzles with his daughter, playing card games, taking daily walks outside and listening to podcasts while doing mundane household chores.
“I lead a very boring and simple life but it makes me happy,” said Settle.
For more tips and strategies and maintaining your distance, but also your health, check out the Performance Triad Trending Topics page at https://p3.amedd.army.mil/trending-topics.