It’s OK to Take Care of Yourself Today
2020 is killing us. Literally and metaphorically. I woke this morning sad, overloaded, discombobulated by everything that’s going on. A wasted day loomed. So I shook things up and went for a walk before coffee. A short one, just a mile or so. It cleared my head a bit, and spurred this thought: It’s OK to take care of yourself today.
Whether 2020 has proven ruinous for you — and for millions of people it truly has — or you’re fortunate like me and it’s just been hard and weird and immensely aggravating and depressing, we can’t escape the existential truth that we’re no good to our loved ones and we can’t fix a thing if we’re a hot mess. So I took a trip through my archives to find useful science-based advice on how to care for the mind and body — to remind myself, and hopefully inspire you. This stuff works, and it’s all easy to do. So screw 2020 and…
Breath normally and pay attention to how it feels for a moment. Does your chest rise and fall? Yeah, you’re doing it wrong. Fix that, and maybe try some simple breathing exercises, and you can reduce stress, improve focus, and even lower blood pressure. This is science, not New Age mumbo jumbo. I tried it myself and it’s pretty amazing — and it helps me ease into a good afternoon nap.
Few fitness topics offer more conflicting advice than stretching. But the latest research shows it has notable benefits — both physical and mental — whether you’re an elite athlete, a weekend warrior, or a total couch potato. So if you do nothing else today, stretch your mind and learn some of the dos and don’ts of stretching, and then, you know, do it.
That’s an order! And in this concise article I explain why and how. Just read it. If you sleep better, you’ll have more energy to …
You don’t have to get fanatical about physical activity to see great benefits. Just take a walk (or work in the garden or dance around the house). Multiple studies show moderate physical activity, including brisk walking, sharpens the mind immediately and over the long term, lowers the risk of a bunch of diseases, and can help you live longer—regardless of the shape you are in right now. You can read the in-depth analysis, or just check out this motivational graphic:
Even if the best you can do is some straggly urban tree or a flower box in the neighbor’s yard, take it. As science shows: “From hiking in the wilderness to living near urban green spaces, experiences with nature are linked to everything from better physical health and longer life to improved creativity, lower stress levels and outright happiness.” Wow, that’s a lot!
I’d be remiss if I didn’t offer some creative solutions for getting a little more physical, so here are some more intense workouts that are still easy to do:
- Two At-Home Workouts to Stay Fit
- 3 Doctor-Designed Workouts Anyone Can Do
- Surprising Benefits of Brief, Intense Exercise (Like Climbing Stairs)
(There are, of course, a slew of other ways to get out of a funk. You can try yoga, tai chi, mindfulness, weightlifting. All great ideas. I tend to focus on things that don’t require coaches or classes or equipment.)
I won’t preach about fixing your diet, because you know you should and maybe just don’t feel like it. Fine. But may I just suggest, if you do nothing else, please eat more vegetables — you just can’t go wrong with that. Years and years ago, at the start of 2020, I wrote about why doctors should prescribe diet and exercise to anyone who is struggling with any physical or mental ill, because it’s that important. And it’s true now more than ever.
So, you made it this far. But maybe you’re thinking it’s just too much, that you can’t muster the energy to take care of yourself today with all the things wrong in the universe. Let me take one last crack at some inspiration:
You can’t fix the universe if you spend the day worrying about the universe. So take a cue from this super-optimistic 81-year-old guy who can plank 10 minutes (and see if you can do one minute — right now!). Or check out the creative ways I’m finding to stay in shape at 58 even though I can’t run anymore and the gym is closed.
Don’t have time to exercise? That’s complete BS. Seriously, science says so. You can start by putting your phone away for 20 minutes, pause the doomscrolling and close this article right now and just stand up and move around and put some music on and let your hips sway or mop the floor or maybe go outside because, and I can’t stress this enough: exercise doesn’t have to be that hard.
Now that this article is done, I’m going to take the mountain bike out for a long, slow, flat ride — nothing too taxing, but I need to get my heart rate up in a good way and get my mind off the disaster that is 2020. I’d love to see you out there.