From Online Yoga to Growing Herbs, Here’s How I Tried to Stay Healthy During Quarantine

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A writer shares how she tried to stay mentally and physically healthy in coronavirus quarantine, including home cooking, online yoga, and growing her own herbs.

Jill SchildhouseCourtesy Jill Schildhouse“Looks like it’s officially our turn now,” I said to my fiancé, Ryan, as we watched Arizona Governor Doug Ducey begin his March 31 press conference. On the heels of my canceled trip to Thailand due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we’d already begun a self-imposed isolation at home at the beginning of the month.

As governors from more densely populated states began placing restrictions on leaving home for anything but essential activities, we sensed our own directive would be coming any day now and had decided to get a head start.

Coronavirus quarantine in Phoenix

Just as we suspected, Governor Ducey announced that our statewide stay-at-home order would take effect at the close of business that same day. He referred to the order as, “Stay home, Stay healthy, Stay connected.” At first, it just seemed like a clichéd tagline to help citizens remember the rules. But upon further reflection, I realized it was actually an important message.

I already thought I might have a relatively easy time adjusting to the “stay home” part. I’ve run my business from home for years, and Ryan’s company had shifted its employees to telecommuting status a few weeks earlier. And I’d been implementing the “stay connected” sentiment with almost-daily video chats with my parents.

Staying healthy during coronavirus quarantine

Finally, I zeroed in on the “stay healthy” portion of his directive. What exactly did that mean? Obviously, it implied staying coronavirus-free, of course. However, I began to ponder what types of activities I could add to my life that would help me stay mentally and physically healthy in quarantine.

Since I was already feeling stressed by the pandemic and its side effects (job losses, market crashes, death, and devastation), I was cognizant of the fact that I didn’t want to put unnecessary pressure on myself to morph into a whole new person during this time of crisis. So I decided to start with one healthy habit and see what would happen from there.

Jill SchildhouseCourtesy Jill Schildhouse

Cooking more frequently

Immediately, we decided to cut our three-times-a-week takeout routine down to a weekly treat—both in an effort to save money and also because cooking is healthier than eating out. (Here’s what you need to know about coronavirus and safely ordering takeout.)

“Restaurants usually add more oils, sugars, fats, and sodium than you’d use at home,” says Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, a registered dietitian and certified personal trainer. “Plus, the portions are very generous, which means extra calories. Cooking gives you complete control over the ingredients and portion size.”

Cooking had always been my duty in our relationship, so I decided to take this opportunity to morph Ryan into the sous chef I’d always wanted him to be. While I focused on cooking our nightly protein, Ryan became a master at making robust salads filled with greens, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, chia, and sunflower seeds, topped with olive oil. Some weeks, we ordered meal kits, like Hello Fresh and Green Chef, to add a little variety to our recipe options. And when we sat down to eat, we appreciated the tastes and textures even more.

Growing veggies and herbs

As produce, among other ingredients, became scarce during the early days of the pandemic, I decided to invest in a couple ways to easily grow herbs and veggies. I had ordered an AeroGarden to start growing herbs indoors and a Lettuce Grow Farmstand for veggies like lettuce, kale, Swiss chard, bok choy, tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers. After about a month, we were able to harvest our first round of pesticide-free crops and incorporate them into our dishes.

“Produce slowly loses nutrients and the flavor profile begins to change the moment it’s picked,” says Palinski-Wade. “By the time it’s transported to the store, sits on the shelves, and eventually makes its way to your home, you’re really losing some of the nutritional value.”

I’d gotten into the habit of relying on the dry herbs in my pantry over the years, and forgot how muted their flavors can be. Now, we’re enjoying fresh cilantro mixed into carnitas, fresh parsley on top of cauliflower mac and cheese, and fresh thyme sautéed into our sausage breakfast scrambles. We even add fresh mint leaves to our iced tea because we’re fancy now.

Grocery shopping online

To help reduce the number of times we left our house, we switched our weekly grocery store trip to online ordering and delivery through Instacart—one of the best ways to get groceries delivered. One thing we immediately noticed was that this practice made it much easier to stick to our planned grocery list.

“Online grocery shopping gives shoppers less exposure to impulse buys,” says Palinski-Wade. “Plus, consumers are being more mindful about purchasing necessary staples versus extras when stock is in short supply.”

We’ve been following a keto lifestyle since late last year, but even so, it’s surprising how many not-so-healthy keto snacks are available that we’d grown accustomed to indulging in. Now we routinely order the same list of healthy, whole foods—poultry and meats, seafood, veggies, dairy, natural nut butters, and berries—and don’t even miss the treats we once purchased.

Taking neighborhood walks and appreciating nature

After a week or so of self-isolating, we realized we desperately needed some fresh air and a change of scenery. We began taking 2-mile walks around our neighborhood a few mornings each week. It’s interesting what you notice when you’ve been cooped up inside more than usual.

I marveled at the delightful sound of birds chirping and the way the sun felt on my face. I literally stopped mid-walk to smell the roses and bougainvillea on our route, watch the palm tree leaves rustle in the breeze, and sweet-talk dogs behind fences. (Here are some tips for safe walking during coronavirus.)

Plus, I know that vitamin D—nicknamed the “sunshine vitamin” because your body can make it through your skin’s exposure to sunlight—would be a great side benefit to our walks. In a May 2020 study, preprinted in medRxiv, researchers discovered a possible link between a vitamin D deficiency and severe Covid-19 in elderly patients. (Although more study is needed to confirm the link.) On the days we didn’t go outdoors, I took a vitamin D supplement.

Jill SchildhouseCourtesy Jill Schildhouse

I took a 30-day virtual yoga challenge

By the end of April, as temperatures climbed into triple digits, it became too hot to take our daily walks. A week later, I noticed I was missing the feel-good benefits of exercise and that my stress levels were on the rise—but the treadmill collecting dust in our bedroom wasn’t exactly calling my name.

I’d read that yoga, breathing techniques, and meditation were some of the ways wellness experts coped with their coronavirus-related stress and anxiety, so I decided to search for a free yoga class through Amazon Prime Video. I found one called 30-Day Yoga for Weight Loss and did the first two classes that same day. I’d found a winner. (Here are 10 online classes you should try right now.)

Because I couldn’t talk Ryan into joining me for living room yoga, I knew I needed an accountability partner to help keep me motivated—well, someone besides my toy schnauzer, Lily, who hung out on my mat and repeatedly showed off how much more advanced her “downward-facing dog” pose was than mine.

So, I posted on Facebook, asking if any of my friends would like to join me for a daily yoga class on their own schedules. Thankfully three of them agreed and our virtual challenge began.

“Exercise enhances the immune system and helps lower stress levels,” says Palinski-Wade, noting that stress can suppress the immune system. “Because consistency is key when it comes to the health benefits of exercise, it’s great to have an indoor option that’s not weather-dependent and helps minimize your exposure to other people.”

Every day, my yoga crew checks in via Facebook Messenger to talk about that day’s class, share our struggles, celebrate our progress (for me, increased strength and flexibility), and support each other’s journey. And that’s also helped eliminate some of the feelings of isolation we’re all experiencing.

Looking back, I can now see how making just one choice led to the next. I never forced myself to adopt changes that didn’t resonate with me, but instead let nature take its course.

And, even though our “Stay home, Stay healthy, Stay connected” order recently expired, I have no plans to discontinue any of my new habits. Perhaps this is my new normal.

  • Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, CDE, LDN, CPT, a registered dietitian and certifed personal trainer
  • medRxiv: "The Possible Role of Vitamin D in Suppressing Cytokine Storm and Associated Mortality in COVID-19 Patients"

Jill Schildhouse
Jill Schildhouse is an award-winning writer and editor specializing in travel, health and wellness, fitness and nutrition, beauty, and consumer products. Over the last two decades, her work has appeared in such publications as Reader's Digest, Oxygen, AAA, Amazing Wellness, Muscle & Performance, the Arizona Republic, and Phoenix Home & Garden. The self-proclaimed foodie has visited 35 countries in search of amazing meals and adventures, which include taking culinary classes in Italy, cruising the fjords of Norway, and snorkeling in Fiji. Jill resides in Phoenix, Arizona, with her fiancé and toy schnauzer.