Friday, July 23, 2021

Pandemic-Era Health and Fitness Changes

via Unsplash

As you can probably tell from the title of this post, there's definitely a content warning on this one, as I'll be talking about weight changes (as a broad concept, I'm not going to refer to my weight in specific numbers today but I also can't guarantee that any websites I link to, including one of my own older posts, won't include more explicit discussion of weight-related numbers), diet, exercise, and certain health conditions. Please do not continue with this post if you do not wish to read about any of these topics. 

COVID-Era Fitness Changes 

It probably isn't surprising that the COVID pandemic changed my lifestyle in a way that adversely affected my overall fitness and my weight. As someone who lives in NYC and who generally walks to and from work; who also goes out of the office to buy lunch just about every weekday; and who was often out and about in the city each weekend, my day-to-day life before the pandemic generally involved a fair bit of physical activity in the form of walking around the city. Unsurprisingly, that all changed once we started social distancing and isolating at home last March.

I only just realized last week that the Health app on my iPhone passively tracks my total steps taken every day while carrying my phone. I think you can guess what the numbers suddenly started to look like after I returned from my disrupted business trip on March 12, 2021. In the normal course of life before the pandemic, I walked approximately 6,000 steps a day. Afterwards, I was lucky to get to 450 steps a day in my apartment most days, outside of those in-person grocery store outings we did a little less often than once a month. (The iPhone was always unable to measure my at-home stationary bike workouts, so those were never factored in, to either the pre-pandemic or pandemic-era numbers.) 

I maintained a similar workout routine before and after the start of the COVID pandemic. Over the years since I graduated law school in 2015, I've always been quite consistent about doing moderate-intensity cardio workouts of roughly 45 minutes to an hour an average of three to five times a week, with occasional brief Pilates sessions from a YouTube video and some half-hearted bodyweight strength training exercises mixed in very inconsistently. 

Although I was able to maintain my usual workout routine throughout the 14 months I spent social distancing, I could still feel some adverse effects from the lack of walking and other background physical activity in my day-to-day life. Among other things, I felt softer all over, like I had less muscle than before. And once I started going back to the office, I'd feel completely exhausted at the end of each workday, essentially just from my fifteen minute walks to and from the office. Clearly, my energy levels weren't what they used to be before the pandemic!

Health Changes Over Time

As I went through my blog archives while writing this post, I was surprised to find I was once extremely blunt about certain weight changes I've gone through before. Until I looked at that entry again just now, I simply didn't remember ever having been so direct about this topic. In any case, pandemic-driven lifestyle changes have put me in a similar spot again. 

A quick disclaimer before I continue: I'm definitely not a doctor or other health care professional. I'm obviously not qualified to give health or fitness advice. The discussion below is simply about my own plans for myself  after consulting with my doctor. 

My relative delinquency with scheduling routine annual physicals with my general practitioner - I've only done two such exams since graduating law school - has, by coincidence, created a situation where I can very directly compare my results at this weight from when I was age 29 - the last time I was in this spot, weight-wise - and now that I'm in almost this exact spot closer to age 33. 

Last time, at 29, all numbers screened as part of a typical annual physical were well within healthy ranges. This time, at 33, that's... not quite the case. Nothing is urgent or requires scheduling a special follow-up appointment. But I will be much better next time about scheduling my annual physical in a timely fashion, and I hope to see some progress then. I see this as an opportunity to get more serious about my health and fitness. 

I think this may not be especially uncommon amongst some people of Chinese and Taiwanese descent, but prediabetes - despite having what's considered a "normal BMI" - runs on one side of my family. My numbers in that area are still "normal," but right on the edge. This is... somewhat perplexing, because I don't really eat many sweets - I prefer savory snacks - or simple carbs due to not enjoying those foods as much as others. I had also been maintaining that aforementioned steady workout routine at pretty much all times. So there isn't a very obvious culprit here that would be easy to change quickly. Of course, additional marginal improvements in these areas are still possible! 

One of my bad cholesterol numbers was a little higher than the normal range, but that surprises me somewhat less. I'm far from the first of my office-working, frequent restaurant delivery-ordering NYC friends around my age to get this message from their doctor! 

This is, perhaps, a... somewhat uniquely un-promising result in my case, however, because I had actually stopped eating basically all restaurant food during our 14 months of social distancing. We literally ordered restaurant delivery only one time during that window! After K and I were fully vaccinated and were two weeks out from our second dose, we did go back to patronizing restaurants, but I've only had maybe two non-Sweetgreen restaurant meals each week since, which doesn't really seem like very many... 

Anyway, that's all a long way of saying that I would like to be a little more serious about more healthy food intake - with more plants and fewer animal products, and by continuing to eat home-cooked food a lot more often than we did before the pandemic - and my fitness routine. 

Fitness Generally

Over the years of keeping this blog, I think I've alluded a few times to how I have a hard time changing or intensifying my workout routine. This is despite having had a few phases of wanting to do that. I'm very good about the aforementioned steady 3-5x/week, mostly cardio routine I've maintained for years. But doing anything differently, particularly by regularly doing and also intensifying my strength-oriented exercise is really, really hard for me. 

Readers have been kind enough to recommend various YouTube channels and apps they find useful, but in part because there's so little extra space in my apartment - we need to move furniture around anytime K or I want to do a no-equipment strength workout on a yoga mat - I haven't been able to incorporate those suggestions. It always feels very cramped and claustrophobic when I try to do those exercises, so I can't keep up with them. 

And ah, I'm not proud of this at all, but I've also learned from several past experiences that no matter how much money I spend buying a pack of multiple expensive workout classes at a studio, I'll never be able to commit enough to even using all the sessions I bought before they expire in however many months. So that option is probably mostly off the table. I may still try again if I think I can identify a class I really want to do at a studio that's very near my home or office, but it also maybe wouldn't shock me if I found myself wasting some of my class sessions again...

In the short term, I've started running outdoors again. As a child and teenager, I absolutely hated running. I was one of those kids in physical education ("P.E.") class who couldn't even run an entire mile, so I totally had a worse than 12 minute mile time. But during law school, I was able to work on building a running routine and even started to enjoy it. At my peak, I could run a 5k anytime easily (though my mile times were never too impressive, I never got much faster than ~10 minutes/mile; I'm basically unable to regulate my speed unless I'm on a treadmill). I don't love the options for locations to run near my current apartment and office, but I can make do. 

If I want to get more serious about strength training, I think my best option is to work with a personal trainer for at least a few sessions. Pre-pandemic, it was not uncommon for some of my neighbors to bring personal trainers to our apartment's in-building gym, as there's a decent amount of space and weight-training equipment in there. At the moment, however, I don't think this is an option yet because our building hasn't yet lifted some of the COVID-era restrictions on gym use. (I don't believe New York state law requires these restrictions to continue, but at the moment our in-building gym is only open by appointment for 30 minute slots, a maximum of two households at a time.) 

Anyway, I guess I secretly hope that I'm not alone in ever having had a somewhat unfavorable blood test result for things like cholesterol or blood sugar at a fairly young age - still solidly in my early 30s - when I thought my lifestyle habits were reasonably healthy, even if there was also plenty of room for improvement! I hope I can get those more unfavorable numbers into a healthy range by next year through making some long-term lifestyle changes I can stick to, however small those changes might be. Also, was anyone else just truly terrible at P.E. classes in elementary through secondary school? P.E. teachers and sometimes other kids could be mean about it sometimes, too. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

I love to hear from anyone who might be reading! Please feel free to leave a comment or question.