The biggest health lessons I learned in 2021 thanks to lockdown

From zoom-fatigue to wine o'clock, here's how one writer got through it.

Cast your mind back to March 2020. The world stood still as we were all forced inside to escape the dreaded spicy flu that had so rudely entered our borders without so much as a passport check.

Staying at home was, for many, a welcome break. It offered unrestricted time to finally work on all those projects we’d been ignoring, binge Netflix to our hearts content without feeling guilty, and wear trackpants “to work”.

But come 2021, the novelty had worn off. I’d long abandoned any idea of getting “lockdown fit”, was drinking wine most nights just to cope, and was so traumatised by looking at screens I had nightmares of colleagues yelling, “you’re on mute!”

My mental and physical health were at breaking point, and I knew something needed to change. While I had zero energy to set epic goals, some small adjustments to my daily routine and devouring sage advice from experts helped revive my lacklustre wellbeing.

Here are five key things I learnt about my health in 2021:

1. Moving my body is a must

Sorry to state the obvious, but humans weren’t designed to sit down all day staring at screens. It’s no wonder I had zero energy when I was going from bed to the computer to the couch and back to bed again. Taking just 30 minutes a day to go for a brisk walk – and if I was feeling up for it, rolling out the yoga mat – gave me the mental clarity and boost of energy I needed to get through the day. It also made for a much better night’s sleep.

2. Sugar and alcohol are not my friends (but keto is!)

It’s so easy after a stressful day to reach for a little pick me up – a tasty treat to look forward to when other stimulants like human interaction are off the table. However, drinking at home every night or wolfing down a whole block of chocolate is not cute, and actually made me feel worse. Moreover, alcohol and sugar are leading causes of cancer, obesity, diabetes and a host of other health issues.

At the recommendation of a friend, I read a brilliant book called The Fast 800 Keto, written by British doctor Michael Mosley. After struggling with his own weight and health issues, Dr Mosley – through personal trial and error – came up with the secret sauce for good health. His book chronicles his journey back to health, and how he used a combination of ketogenic eating and intermittent fasting to not only shed fat but reverse his diabetes. It’s got lots of yummy (and healthy) recipes from his wife, bestselling author Dr Clare Bailey, along with an easy-to-follow programme that breaks down the science and helps to keep you on track.

Weirdly, checking my ketosis levels became a fun lockdown activity within itself, as I was able to track my progress by using keto sticks (strips you pee on to see if you’re excreting ketones – the by-product of burning fat for fuel). As Dr Mosley says, it is very motivating to see when you are in ketosis, and it is also a useful way to tell you when you can be more relaxed about your daily calories.

The keto diet (high in good fats, low in carbs) is basically flipping your metabolic switch, going from burning sugar to burning fat for fuel. It leads to significant weight loss, mental clarity and other potential health benefits. Combining The Fast 800 intermittent fasting approach with a ketogenic diet is more effective than a conventional keto regime, and healthier and more sustainable.

3. Set a timer on social media

Did you know that there’s a setting in your phone that will limit your time spent on certain apps? It turns out I was wasting hours of my life mindlessly scrolling social media without even realising! This one small change has allowed me to set a boundary with my app usage, and my time and energy is all the better for it.

4. Take a break from the news

The constant echo-chamber of anti-vaxxers, variants, and the word “jab” was sending me into a tail-spin, so I reasoned that if there was anything truly important going on, my friends and family would fill me in. It’s amazing what stepping away from the news cycle can do for your mental health.

5. Talk to loved ones

Sometimes just the voice of someone I love is enough to bring a smile to my face. Checking in with friends and family has become more important than ever. We’ve all had a tough run and being there for each other lightens everyone’s load.

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