Forced Changes Nudge Us to New Insights
We have all experienced some surprising, pleasant benefits from the pandemic, despite the losses and pain many have endured. In this time, many families have rediscovered new levels of togetherness and joy as work and school shifted towards home. From a fitness standpoint, I try to look at the opportunities created by these ritual-busting, forced changes.
We all witnessed how health clubs closed and fitness habits changed as we started working from home and waited for direction from our health leaders on how to proceed. Many were confused and frozen with fear, which may explain why we now have a phrase: “the covid 30.” Many stories abound about how people got creative with home gyms, bike stores sold out, and parks (if open) started to fill up. From a Darwinian standpoint, the ability to survive aligns with the capacity to adapt.
I encountered one adaptation as we moved to Florida to care for mom in hospice; my sisters brilliantly moved her from a shutdown assisted living facility in Cincinnati to her second home on Amelia Island. She lived for another 10 months there, and we alternated nighttime coverage to monitor her. Together, we offered comfort and shadowed her on her trips to the bathroom. Having to abandon my gym visits and training partners at home, as well as my beloved home guest room fitness set up, I adopted my “break the fog, Sandy Beach 8 AM workout.”
At first glance, this routine appears to be a simple form of basic exercise; it is no big deal. However, upon closer inspection, there are some hidden pearls worth noting. First, rising at 6:15 in the morning after a night of heavily fragmented sleep could cause anyone to collapse into a weary mindset for the day. In this state, the risk of poor eating and laziness is high. In the spirit of Stoic philosophers, “the obstruction is the way,” so jumping immediately into high activity, food fasting, and preparations for the coming day can help anyone launch through the inertia. Trust yourself to show up when needed - all you must do is ask! A good catalyst to start your engines is plenty of good electrolyte hydration (next blog), clean tea or coffee, and some high-energy music.
The next unexpected dividend from my routine is exposure to morning sunshine, which activates vitamin D. Morning sunshine helps set the diurnal rhythms for a good sleep and triggers the subcutaneous release of nitric oxygen that lowers blood pressure and enhances capillary O2 delivery. Needless to say, it is hard to get or replicate these bonuses inside of a gym! Exercise, heat-induced thrashing in the sand also sheds dead surface skin cells and provides a “dry mineral bath” via transdermal absorption. Barefoot yoga and functional movements, in particular, restore complete foot function and critically challenges lesser-used core muscles. The ocean swim is yet another bonus. Treading water in this giant salt bath leads to further transdermal delivery of needed nutrients, like magnesium. On windy days when waves crest high, there is a separate, emotional boost swimming under and through the walls of cascading water. It can help anyone overcome fears that limit us as we recall stories of sharks and rip tides.
During the cold months, the temperature in northern Florida ranges between 30- and 50-degrees Fahrenheit in the early morning. As a result, a shirtless workout serves as a cold immersion exercise as the strong winds and swim wakes up the body even more. I like to apply the Scott Carney “wedge technique” to neutralize the anticipated and experienced cold sensation and translate it to a positive mental and physical impact namely parasympathetic tone boosting, which further compounds favorable physical benefits. The hot days serve as a low cost version of Bikram or “hot yoga” and foster a catharsis level of sweating, heat shock protein generation and all it’s benefits. Another free dividend.
When back home in North Carolina, the personal trainer “Sandy Beach” gets traded for my grassy backyard. Like a sandy surface, the grass “grounds” us by absorbing negative ions that build up as we live our indoor lives on artificial surfaces. This feature cannot be underestimated, and it may explain why we instinctually love to walk barefoot on sand and grass and feel better afterwards. Our outdoor cat, Albus, always joins me on my journeys and reminds me of all the important rules we can learn from our pets.
In the end, this exercise detour ends up being the option with the most unanticipated dividends. Sometimes detours lead you to your goals faster and more directly so pay attention and stay open minded. We will get through this soon and staying metabolically heathy will serve you well with this virus and more importantly help protect you from the chronic diseases out there.
Stay strong, keep smiling and be your own best doctor,
Charles J. Meakin MD, MHA, MS
Disclaimer: This information is not meant as direct medical advice. Readers should always review options with their local medical team. This is the sole opinion of Dr. Meakin based on a literature review at the time of the blog and may change as new evidence evolves.