Published: 29 April. Written by: Niamh Leonard-Bedwell.
After over a year of living through the pandemic, we have gradually become creatures of habit. But which lockdown habits should we hold onto, and which ones should we let go of as we return to normality?
While there were plenty of aspects of lockdown that many of us didn’t enjoy (loo roll shortages we’re looking at you), it’s fair to say that we have adopted some positive routines along the way.
According to research conducted by Purely Organic, more than half of us have a newfound appreciation for nature. Meanwhile, data collected by Strava revealed we spent 14.7 per cent more time running, cycling and walking in 2020 and last year, searches for banana bread recipes spiked at 2.7 million as we hunkered down in our kitchens. So how can we continue to prioritise these habits?
NHS frontline worker and mental health advocate Dr Emeka Okorocha believes that variety is key. ‘Balance is what keeps you enthusiastic,’ says Dr Okorocha. ‘If you’re focusing on one habit every single day, you’re going to forget the joys of other things.’
Instead, think about what your life has looked like in lockdown, what you’ve enjoyed and missed, and how you can tweak your routine so you’re healthier and happier going forward. Here are some habits to keep – and ditch.
KEEP: Cooking from scratch
The pandemic saw us gravitate to our kitchens. Leading meal-kit supplier HelloFresh reported that orders had more than doubled during lockdown. Our new habits could have a meaningful impact on our health: one US study found that people who ate out twice or more daily were more likely to die from heart disease, cancer and other illnesses than those who dined out once a week or less. ‘A lot of the time, home-cooked meals are going to be more nutritious,’ says Dr Okorocha. That said, eating out has social benefits and helps local businesses survive during a difficult time, so don’t feel bad about doing it once a week. Bored of the same weekly menu? Challenge yourself to try new healthy recipes. ‘I buy cookbooks to motivate myself,’ says Dr Okorocha.
DITCH: Netflix bingeing
After a long day of home-working, settling down on the sofa for the evening can be tempting, but according to one study, how much TV we watch can be indicative of our health. The study collected data from nearly half a million adults and found that those who watched less than two hours of TV a day tended to be healthier. Another study found that heavy screen users – who spent a massive 17.5 hours a day on devices – tended to be more stressed and ate more fast food. To encourage healthier habits, go for a quick walk before turning on the telly, or watch your favourite series from a treadmill or exercise bike at the gym (as long as you feel comfortable going back).
KEEP: Enjoying creative hobbies
Lockdown boredom influenced a boom in creative hobbies, with Hobbycraft reporting a 30 per cent increase in sales. Purchases of musical instruments rose by 80 per cent and after Bridgerton became available on Netflix, searches for embroidery kits (as well as Regé-Jean Page!) soared. And we’d do well to keep crafting, as previous research has shown that creative pursuits can help limit negative mental health outcomes. Additionally, learning an instrument can improve long-term memory and speed up reaction times, which could stave off age-related cognitive decline.
DITCH: Weeknight drinking
Reports showed that Brits brought home an extra 498.5 million litres of booze in lockdown and that 2.7 million of us had given up on Dry January 2021 by the end of the first week. ‘The guidelines are no more than 14 units for men and women over the week,’ says Dr Okorocha. But that certainly doesn’t mean you should drink them all at once. ‘If you don’t have a glass of wine every evening, just have a couple on the weekend. The main thing is to make sure you’re in control, not forgetting anything, acting erratically, or feeling completely hungover the next day – these are tell-tale signs of addiction.’
KEEP: Walking, jogging and cycling
Strava reported that the number of walks uploaded on the app tripled last year, while jogs and cycles increased significantly, too. We should aim for a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity each week to stay healthy, so keeping up active pursuits is a good idea.
‘There are physical and mental health benefits to doing just 15 minutes of exercise every day,’ explains Dr Okorocha, who works with online training platform Freeletics. ‘The app can pinpoint green spaces and outdoor workouts near you.’ Dr Okorocha himself has used it to plan running routes in lockdown. If you’ve got a busy week ahead, scheduling exercise can be helpful. ‘On a Sunday evening, block it out in your diary, rather than thinking you might do it,’ advises personal trainer and founder of The Shred Squad, Claudia Addison-Newland.
DITCH: Poor desk set-ups
Hunching over a laptop at the kitchen table or answering emails from the sofa (or bed!) have been our WFH realities and habits in lockdown – and we’ve suffered for it. A survey by Nurofen found that one third of UK adults reported an increase in aches and pains, believing that poor desk set-ups were responsible. Over time, craning over a screen can change our neck and shoulder muscles, damaging our posture. ‘The muscles at the front shorten and muscles at the back lengthen,’ says Craig McLean, registered chiropractor and co-founder of Chiro London. ‘There can be bone changes in the spine, too – the bones in the upper back get thinner at the front and stay the same height at the back, which creates a hunch.’ If you’re not returning to the office, borrow a monitor from work or invest in a laptop stand and plug-in keyboard to keep your screen at eye-height, and make sure you’re getting up and moving regularly.
Have you found yourself struggling with getting back to life and balancing it all? Or are you finding you have anxieties over adapting to life again? Here’s how to cope with the new normal.