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7 Tips for Keeping Your Spirits High

man running on gravel path at sunset

As COVID-19 changes the world each day, it’s easy to feel a sense of helplessness. Now as much as ever, it’s crucial to prioritize your physical and mental health. Here are seven practical tips from running to cooking, for bettering your physical and mental health during these unprecedented times.

Go for a run (as long as you are healthy)

If you feel well enough, keep running. Or start running. According to a phone interview with Dr. David C. Nieman, Professor and Director of the Human Performance Laboratory at Appalachian State University, regular exercise, like running, is excellent for preventing the common cold.

A 2011 study from Dr. Neiman’s lab shows that sick days for the common cold during a 12-week period in the winter or fall is reduced by 25 to 50 percent for people who exercise most days of the week.

Running is also an excellent way to handle stress. Trail running, in particular, is therapeutic in times of stress and anxiety. A 2015 study conducted by Stanford University shows that exercise in a natural environment (as opposed to an urban one), can reduce neural activity in the part of the brain at risk for mental illness.

However, if you can’t get into the woods, simply spending some time outdoors moving is a solid choice.

Rest if you need to rest

If you don’t feel well, take this time to rest and heal, away from everyone else. If you’re sick, don’t run.

Dr. Nieman says that exercise is excellent for prevention of illness when part of a healthy lifestyle, but it is not a therapy to use once you’re sick.

Vigorous exercise, like a speed workout, “doesn’t take away illness or hasten its decline. It can do the opposite and make everything worse.”

If you’re sick, stay home, rest and keep the germs to yourself.

Supplement your running with at-home strength and mobility training

If you’re stuck at home, it’s easy to spend too much time in front of screens. Running aside, try to move more in general.

If you don’t make time for strength and mobility exercises due to busy schedules. Now is the time to get back to those things that make your body feel healthy and strong.

Do yoga. Add in more dynamic movement that you can do anywhere, whether you’re warming up before a run or just trying to loosen up after hours in front of the computer.

Find goals that you can still pursue

Your race may have been canceled, but that doesn’t mean you have to stop training completely. If you were ready to earn a new PR, take that fitness and put it into a time trial or a virtual race.

You can still get competitive (if that's your thing) on Strava and other platforms. Pick a course, and grind it out. If you struggle to stay motivated without a race, check in with your local store and join our online community for encouragement.

For many people, running isn’t about competition. Perhaps you enjoy the solitude of running solo, the joy of gaining fitness, or running farther than you have before. Whatever makes you happy, keep yourself healthy and fit. Take a break from speed workouts if you want to just run easy. Take care of yourself in the way that feels best to you.

Read

Perhaps it’s cliche, but reading is one of the healthiest ways to escape and put your mind in a different space. Gain inspiration from someone who has overcome obstacles. Go for some of our favorite running books to get advice and inspiration from pro runners, or take a break from the running world and read about something else entirely. Dive into the genre keeps you interested.

Try something new in the kitchen. And eat your fruit

According to Elyse Kopecky, co-author of Run Fast. Cook Fast. Eat Slow., the most important thing an athlete can do, besides training, is learn to cook healthy food. Try out a new recipe. Experiment with combinations based on what’s in your pantry. You may discover a new favorite.

What’s more, adequate caloric intake is crucial for runners’ recovery and immune health. Over the phone, Dr. Nieman described a 2017 study in which they found that carbohydrate and polyphenol supplementation reduces post-exercise stress to the immune system, decreases inflammation and improves metabolic function.

Foods such as bananas and berries are rich in carbohydrate and polyphenols and act as a countermeasure to physiological stress when taken before, during and after strenuous exercise.

One of the most taxing things you can do to your immune system, according to Dr. Nieman, is to engage in intense exercise (like a half marathon effort or longer) without any carbohydrate in your system. Add mental stress, and lack of sleep, and it’s practically a recipe for illness. In other words, running hard is good for you, but you must fuel properly and give yourself adequate rest and nutrition throughout your training.

Support your community

If you’re cooped up, use the time to connect with others over the phone or online. How many of us have lost touch with someone we love because we’re too busy? Social distancing is crucial right now. But we also live in a time where that doesn’t have to mean total isolation. Call your loved ones and use the time to stay connected. Encourage self care and healthy habits with friends.

In times of uncertainty it’s a common instinct to hoard resources and adopt an “everyone for themselves” attitude. But communities will thrive (and you’ll feel better about yourself) when we help each other. Buy gift cards to support local businesses. Get groceries for your elderly neighbor. Check on your friends and make sure others are doing okay. Talk to people on the phone. Stay connected even if it’s not in person.


By Kate Schwartz. Schwartz has been running competitively for 20 years, and she currently runs with the Asheville Running Collective. She lives in Asheville, NC, with her husband, Alex, and their cat, Clementine.