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How to keep physically healthy while staying at home

Written by CEO of VicHealth Dr Sandro Demaio
Two women dancing in the kitchen

How can we eat and move to help our bodies stay strong?

Two women dancing in the kitchen

As more and more of us are doing what we can to help slow down the spread of the novel coronavirus (or COVID-19), you may find that it’s that little bit harder to focus on your physical health.

Gyms are closed, many retailers have shut their doors and it’s not recommended that we venture out and use our local parks and beaches the way we used to.

So, how can we eat and move to ensure our bodies stay strong and well?

We sat down with Medical Doctor and CEO of VicHealth, Dr Sandro Demaio, to find out why staying at home is so essential, but also to get his advice on keeping healthy while physically distancing.

Why is it important to stay home during COVID-19?

Sandro explains, “The risk COVID-19 poses to the health of Australians is extremely serious and real. Right now, the most important thing we can all do is stay home.”

“Don’t leave your home unless it’s essential, for example to get medical supplies or food. Social gatherings – such as having friends or family over for dinner or celebrations – cannot happen right now.”

“We understand this will take some getting used to and will impact on all of our lives, but it’s incredibly important for slowing the spread of COVID-19. While you may not get seriously ill with the virus, your grandparent, an older neighbour or other vulnerable people in the community you don’t even know could die from this illness.”

“We all need to take this seriously to save lives.”

What can I do to stay physically active while indoors?

“As our lives change and physical interaction is limited, being active is more important than ever. Doing some form of exercise is an easy and free way to boost both your physical health and make you feel better – and there are plenty of ways you can move your body, regardless of the size of your home and your fitness level,” he says.

Here are Sandro’s tips to get you started:

  • Try a free online workout – There’s everything from yoga and strength workouts to Pilates and high intensity interval training (HIIT) available online

  • Head to an interactive online class – Personal trainers, dance instructors and other qualified fitness professionals are using platforms like Facebook Live and Zoom to get people active. These live classes provide a bit of social connection for you too

  • Create your own strength routine – Use cans/jars of food or filled water bottles as weights. Grab your weights and do bicep curls, squats and lunges

  • Run, walk or star jump – Even just for 30 seconds on the spot, these movements can get your heart rate up

  • Follow the VicHealth This Girl Can campaign – Check out the Instagram or Facebook for inspiration, try these great tips on exercising at home from campaign ambassador Sana or check out this workout from campaign ambassador Natasha

  • Safely head out – If you’re feeling well and you’re not in self-isolation or quarantine, you can go for a walk, run or cycle. But it’s best to go early in the morning or later in the day, and stick to areas with less foot traffic (for example, avoid streets with shops). And be sure to stay 1.5 metres away from other people

A father and daughter do yoga in their living room

What about my diet – what should I eat while at home?

“Eating a healthy diet helps keep our immune system strong, and that’s really important right now. While supplies of packaged foods like pasta and rice have been low, there are plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables available to enjoy,” Sandro explains.

“If you can’t get to the supermarket, ask a family member, friend or neighbour to make a trip for you.”

Sandro’s given us five simple tips to for eating a healthy, balanced diet:

  • Eat lots of fresh fruit and vegetables – Most supermarkets have plenty of fresh produce available, so make the most of it. If you’re after healthy, simple meal ideas, check out the Recipes page on The Check Up

  • Get creative – Don’t panic if you can’t find a food item at the supermarket. Pasta and rice can often be replaced with potato, bread or wraps. Mince can be replaced with mushrooms, lentils, chickpeas or tofu

  • Put down the processed packets – Keep ultra-processed and sugary foods like biscuits, muesli bars and sugary cereals to a minimum

  • Fibre is your friend – Choose high-fibre foods, such as fruit and vegetables and wholegrain cereal and bread, to keep your digestive system regular. For more information on the importance of fibre, check out my article: Why fibre should be on your shopping list

  • Avoid over-snacking – Try to stick to a normal eating pattern (like three meals and two snacks per day) and avoid too much snacking from the cupboard

While it’s important to focus on keeping physically healthy, it’s also essential we care for our mental health. For a range of articles with advice, tips and resources, head to The Check Up's Mental Health section.

For more information on COVID-19 and the latest updates, head to the Australian Government’s Novel Coronavirus webpage.

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Dr Sandro Demaio

Dr Sandro Demaio smiling

Written by CEO of VicHealth

Dr Sandro Demaio

Co-host of the ABC TV series ‘Ask the Doctor’, author of 30 scientific papers and ‘The Doctor’s Diet’ (a cookbook based on science), Dr Sandro Demaio is an Aussie medical doctor and global expert on non-communicable diseases.

For more articles by Dr Sandro Demaio, check out The Check Up’s dedicated section.