For the lifestyle you want

A GP reveals what women really want post-pandemic – fitness, relaxation and self-improvement

Weight gain, lack of motivation and eating more convenience foods are just a few of the challenges women are grappling with that have been worsened by the pandemic, a new study has found. 

Leading UK health check service Medichecks asked over 1,500 women across the country how their physical and mental health has fared over the last year. 

It revealed that 40% had gained weight, 42% had less motivation to exercise and 1 in 3 confessed eating more convenience foods (32%). 

However, in more positive news, over half of females reported their free time had increased during the pandemic.

In fact (47%) said they have more than two hours of free time every day. What’s more, 3 in 4 women polled (72%) intend to dedicate this extra time to fitness, and 53% want to focus on self-improvement. 

Dr Natasha Fernando, a GP and Head of Clinical Excellence at Medichecks (pictured) explains: “The data paints a picture of the real struggle women have been facing during the pandemic. Some have experienced benefits such as an increase in free time, perhaps for those used to commuting who are now homeworking.

“But we also found that multiple demands placed upon women has led to most prioritising the wellbeing of others. A staggering 90% of women said they put the needs of family, friends, work, and even their pets, before their own. And sadly, less than 1% agreed with the statement ‘I feel healthy in mind and body’.” 

Other findings from the research, conducted in March 2021, include:

Around 2 in 3 said their physical health has been negatively impacted by the pandemic

72% reported their mental health has been negatively impacted because of COVID

30% cited an increase in screen time as negatively impacting their health

46% want to spend less time on social media. 

Buoyed by the finding that 36% are optimistic for the future and with spring’s longer days coinciding with an ease of lockdown, Dr Fernando is encouraging women to focus on their health, recommending some simple steps: 

Building habits will keep you motivated
Having a long-term goal is a great way to be inspired to make healthier choices, but it can be overwhelming and hard to know where to start. Breaking down the end goal into smaller goals will make it more manageable and hitting those smaller targets will motivate you to keep going. Introducing exercise in bitesize ways will help to build habits that will keep you active long-term. For example, your goal could be to jog for 30 minutes. To start with, you could plan to jog for five minutes each morning before work and then slowly build this up by adding two minutes to your run each week. Reaching the bigger goal will be easier than you first thought, as you’ve introduced jogging to your daily routine and built it as a habit. Being specific with your plan will help to make sure you stick to it, such as deciding on a set time and location for the exercise – having a contingency plan is also useful for days when you’re unable to stick to your usual schedule.

Incorporate exercise into your existing priorities
With more time being spent at home, household chores can soak up any spare time you might have. A good way to introduce exercise into your daily routine is to combine it with tasks you’re already doing. For example, whilst food is cooking in the oven, you could do 10 minutes of exercise in the kitchen – press-ups and sit-ups are great core exercises that can be done when there’s limited space. Whilst gyms remain closed, there are plenty of exercises you can do from home, such as climbing up and down the stairs, taking part in a free exercise class on YouTube or listening to a fitness podcast. Another great way to combine socialising and fitness is to arrange a video call with some friends where you can virtually dance together and catch up at the same time.

Focus on your breathing to relax and unwind
Our research found that 2 in 3 women want more time to relax, and there are a number of breathing techniques that can help relieve stress and anxiety, especially when we’re in a fight or flight situation. A popular way of relaxing through breathing is called Box Breathing, which consists of inhaling through the nose for four seconds, holding your breath for four seconds, and exhaling through the mouth for four seconds. This process takes you out of panic mode and helps to restore a more relaxed state. Sound meditations can help you focus on the present and give the brain a chance to unwind. If you can take a short walk in your local area, you can focus on the natural sounds around you – birds singing and the wind blowing, for example. If you’re unable to get outdoors, there are several meditation apps available –close your eyes and picture the landscape in front of you as the sounds play. If you’re prone to tight muscles, which can cause pain such as back ache or a stiff neck, Progressive Muscle Relaxation could be useful. For this, follow a process of tensing and relaxing your muscles, for a count of 10 seconds, starting from your feet and working up your body. The release of tension helps to relax the body and loosen any tight spots.

Meal prep to help make healthy choices
One of the easiest ways to move away from unhealthy convenience foods is to meal prep for the week ahead. Not only does it save money and reduce waste, planning ahead can help you to stick to healthy eating. Spending a bit of time upfront, bulk cooking meals for the fridge and freezer will save time day-to-day and you can alternate the meals throughout the week to avoid repetitiveness. If you prefer to cook fresh each day, a way of cutting down prep time and ensuring healthy ingredients are conveniently available is to pre-cut ingredients. Dice carrots, slice peppers or prepare a salad bowl in advance so you’re not tempted by quicker, unhealthier options. One-pot meals are another great way to remove the hassle from cooking a healthy meal and it can free up some time to focus on fitness or relaxing. Frozen fruit and vegetables retain a high level of nutrients and are a convenient way of having food ready in advance. Instead of grabbing an unhealthy freezer dinner because it’s quicker, you can stock the freezer with quick, healthy options instead.

Opt for quality conversations over social media messages
If you’re concerned about the amount of time you’re spending looking at a screen, you can download software on your phone that tracks time and app usage. Everyone’s guilty of spending a lot of time on social media, but turning off notifications can reduce this. When your phone flashes with a notification, it’s easy to get distracted by other apps. Discipline yourself to check your phone when you have the time to do so, or during a set time you want to dedicate to spending on your phone. This way you can control the impact it’s having on your time and health. 

Also, rather than using apps like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, you could call someone and have a quality conversation with them. This builds relationships and encourages more authentic communication, whilst cutting down time spent on social media. Many people check their phone as the first thing they do in the morning and the last thing they do at night. This can negatively impact sleep quality, which affects our mood and health. Putting your phone in a different room before getting into bed is a good way to remove the temptation of checking it. 

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Diane Cooke
Diane Cooke is a three times award-winning journalist who has worked for UK national/regional newspapers, magazines and websites.

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