“Don’t start a new diet, move if you can, and be kind yourself:” a heart surgeon’s guide to staying healthy during COVID19

‘Don’t start a new diet, move if you can & be kind yourself’: A heart surgeon’s guide to staying healthy

Starting a diet and focusing purely on physical appearance is not a sustainable motivator.
Dr Stamp

“It is absolutely the wrong time to start a new diet, even if you’re a bit concerned about gaining a few, so called, ‘COVID kilos’,” heart and lung surgeon and author, Dr Nikki Stamp says. Similarly, only moving between the couch and the fridge is not a good idea during this time of isolation either, she says.

Dr Stamp told participants at the Women & COVID19 Conference on Wednesday night that staying active, having a simple routine and maintaining contact with friends and family, even virtually, is crucial to keeping healthy during the pandemic. While most data is still anecdotal, tools such as Fitbits are showing that people are moving less and having poorer quality sleep than usual.

“I think having the perfect bikini body is the last thing on peoples’ minds. There are much more important things to think about,” she said. “But being in the ‘do nothing’ camp is not helpful either.”

Social media messaging suggesting we “have no excuse” to be unfit at the moment, and that we have endless amounts of spare time to devote to new skills is inaccurate and damaging, Dr Stamp says.

These comments do not take into account the huge toll the pandemic is having on our mental health, especially when it comes to managing anxiety and depression. It also doesn’t account of the other pressures, financial and otherwise, that people might be experiencing.  

“Shame also acts as a very poor motivator,” Dr Stamp noted. “Instead, we need to encourage healthy behaviours.”

Diet plays an important part of physical health. While “emotional eating” is common Dr Stamp says it “only becomes problematic if it is your only coping strategy”.

Having an increased appetite is also quite normal during times of heightened stress. The trick, Dr Stamp says, is to focus on eating a good balance of foods and incorporating activity into your routine.

“It is important to get people active…because among other things, it boosts energy,” she said.

So how can we improve motivation? The key, Dr Stamp says, is to steer away from the superficial motives for exercise – such as losing a few kilograms in order to look good in a swimsuit after lockdown. Instead focus on the overall benefits of feeling healthy, improving your immune system and improving your mental health.

Dr Stamp’s tips for improving self-motivation during COVID19

  1. Pick an activity that is enjoyable. There is no point in starting an activity that you don’t enjoy. If you do enjoy it, however, you are more likely to stick with it.
  2. Try to have a social element to your activity. This depends on your state or territory’s current rules around social distancing, however in some areas people are able to exercise with one other person at a safe distance. Alternatively try an exercise class on Zoom or exercise with a friend on the phone.
  3. Set small goals. Unfortunately, many goals have been thrown out with the pandemic, however bringing back some small achievements, such as completing a 20 minute walk every day, is positive.
  4. Focus on what your body can do and what you would like it to be able to do. Don’t focus on aesthetics. 
  5. Get a routine if you can, but be flexible.
  6. Practice self-compassion. “What would you say to a friend who missed a workout during this period? You would tell them it happens, and tomorrow is a new day.”

The second day of the Women & COVID19 Conference commences tonight at 7pm. You can book tickets here. Women’s Agenda is the media sponsor of the event

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