Written By: Dr Melody Covington MD - Bariatric Physician
It is estimated that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, adults are taking 4000 fewer steps daily. This is equivalent to walking approximately 2 miles less each day.
The need for social distancing to reduce the spread of coronavirus imposes a drastic reduction in physical activity for most individuals and this can lead to unwanted weight gain. Combine low activity with increased food intake and empty calories and we have the perfect storm for weight gain.
The good news is that with the right habits and behaviors, COVID-19 does not have to guarantee weight gain for you!
Here are 5 tips to stay healthy on low activity days.
1. Avoid excess sugar
Americans have always eaten more sugar than other countries; it is the foundation of “SAD” -the Standard American Diet and the reason that 75% of adults in the United States are overweight. We turn to sugar when we are happy, sad, bored, anxious, and “just because”. Sugar is easily addictive due to its effect on the brain’s reward center and the release of dopamine. Sugar also instantly improves mood and provides a short-term energy boost. However, it is the release of the fat-storing hormone insulin in response to sugar that leads to weight gain. To add, on low activity days the muscles are less stimulated, and this makes blood sugar and insulin levels even higher, adding to fat storage.
Therefore, on low activity days limit or avoid added sugar. Reduce sugar by cutting out sweet beverages, flour containing foods, candy, ice cream, cakes, jam, and pies.
2. Avoid high-processed or fake foods
Packaged and processed foods offer convenience and satisfy cravings, but also interfere with the body’s natural ability to recognize fullness and therefore lead to excess calorie intake. Processed foods are easy to overeat because they are low in fiber and nutrients and contain added sugars, salt, chemicals, and additives that make it hard for the brain to reduce inappropriate feeding behavior.
Processed foods increase cravings for unhealthy foods and increase the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer (i.e. colon cancer), and diabetes.
When choosing foods, opt for whole foods high in nutrients. They will be more filling and less likely to cause weight gain or cravings.
3. Eat smaller portions and more home-prepared meals
Although the occasional bar or restaurant outing may be limited, meal delivery company use has increased significantly during quarantine and the COVID-19 outbreak. In comparison to home-prepared foods, restaurant meals are typically higher in calories, larger portioned, and high in added sugar and salt. For example, home-prepared cheeseburger averages 260 calories where the same hamburger at a restaurant averages close to 800 calories!
Preparing meals at home is healthier, more cost-effective, and can be a fun way to explore new cooking interests.
4. Avoid excess alcohol
Alcohol is calorically “empty” meaning that it provides calories in exchange for limited to no nutrient value. This leads to weight gain in several ways but most notably due to increasing food intake by reducing dietary discretion and self-control. The body will also halt fat breakdown to detoxify alcohol when necessary, so this means if you are drinking alcohol, you are likely not breaking down fat.
When physically inactive, mixed alcoholic beverages high in sugar should be limited or avoided and alcohol should never be used to self-medicate difficult emotions such as stress, anxiety, or depression.
5. Get more daily steps
As gyms temporarily closed many panicked at how to stay active and in shape. The good news is that you do not need a gym to get daily steps. Increasing steps count toward weekly physical activity goals and can also help to increase basal metabolic rate. The adult recommendation for physical activity is 150 minutes a week. This is equivalent to 30 minutes 5 days a week.
There are a variety of ways to increase steps including walking indoors or outdoors, jogging, dancing, using a step or stair master, or a combination of HIIT exercises. Simply turning on music and dancing in place is a great way to increase steps while reducing stress and anxiety.
Here are a few easy ways to get more steps at home:
- Walking the dog
- Walking in place during commercials or during virtual meetings
- Join virtual workouts
- Enter daily or weekly step challenges with friends
Need more help getting daily steps?
Follow our FREE 8-week “Just Walk” Guide