7 healthy habits made easier by social distancing restrictions

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Note: While this post focuses on the immediate habits you can put in place in this time of social distancing, I’ve explained the wider context advocating for the use of Natural Movement over at the Movnat journal: Coronavirus: How Can Natural Movement Help You Cope With The Crisis?

Never waste a good crisis… Now that our lives have changed thanks to social distancing and confinement, we need to stop longing for things to go back to normal and ask ourselves what opportunities are created with this new lifestyle.

What if we could be better off when it does end?

Below are 7 healthy habits that are both made easier to adopt thanks to the current restrictions and that will lead to significant long-term benefits.

Right now, most of us have:

  • no access to gyms or other fitness facilities
  • to stay at home except for necessary travels
  • your kids stay at home as well all day long
  • the right to exercise outside (under constraints)

This actually represents an opportunity to build better habits. Habits are composed of 3 things: a cue (or trigger), an action and a reward. The current situation makes it easier to build new habits by making it easier to do the action required or by increasing the reward.

1. Train broad capabilities, not specific movements

The current restrictions in terms of physical activity give us an opportunity to practice becoming more adaptable and develop a “can do” attitude that will bring us benefits in all domains of life, including professional or academic.

At home, look at ways to use your furniture creatively to enable new movements.

Outside, do the same! You have a world of opportunity no matter what environment you live in. Not everyone is authorized to go outside for physical activity, but if you are, think of everything in terms of fitness equipment. The more advanced you are, the more opportunities you can see and exploit. But you can always scale back to your level.

Hang on a tree branch: do pull-ups or even more advanced climbing moves if you can. If you can’t, just hang on for a few seconds. Too hard? Find a low branch and support your weight with your legs as necessary!

You don’t even have to find a mostly horizontal branch to practice upper body pull strength 🙂

All this will get you to practice the fundamental mental shift of training capabilities, not movements. It doesn’t matter if you cannot do the same movements you are used to do. What matters is that you still expand and develop your physical, mental and practical capabilities.

2. Train outside in uncontrolled environments and with improvised equipment

While training outside is common enough for standard personal training and bootcamp sessions, it relies on the same standard fitness equipment and techniques. Instead of lifting kettlebells in the gym, you lift kettlebells on the grass of the park. Instead of using the pull-up rack in the gym, you use the outdoor fitness station. And so on…

With the fitness equipment off limits, no group classes and no sharing of equipment, now is the time to experiment training outside in uncontrolled environments. Use the urban equipment or the natural environment to stay in shape. Practice your upper body pull strength on walls or trees. Use rocks to lift heavy. All these are more efficient than just using standard fitness equipment but they’re more socially awkward in normal times.

These are not normal times however, and people will be much more understanding of such a practice now. Which makes it much easier to start if you were intimidated before.

The benefits of such a practice are so wide-ranging, it would truly be shame not to seize that opportunity to become more comfortable being a training maverick in public.

3. Practice being barefoot!

For the same reason, walking or training barefoot is now much easier to practice. Being barefoot outside sadly carries a strong dose of social stigma. Some will look at you with round eyes if you do. And yet, it’s a very efficient way to increase the complexity of any workout, build mental toughness and generally reclaim the health of your entire lower body chain.

Apart from our own preconceptions, fearing the look of others is the main obstacle to experiencing the benefits of being barefoot. But these days, the streets and parks much more quiet. Again, there has never been an easier to start being barefoot.

Being barefoot outside is one of the easiest ways to “become comfortable being uncomfortable” both physically and mentally. When new to barefoot walking, you have to deal with new and uncomfortable sensations. And of course you need to build your self-confidence to proudly assume being barefoot when you’re out and about.

4. Develop your Mental Toughness: “The only easy day was yesterday”

Mental Toughness is a concept that is most often seen with regards to military special operations training. It is a combination of strong resilience, persistence and results-driven mindset. Mental Toughness gives you the drive to continue in the face of adversity and reach your goals. It hardens you against difficulty and gets you in the mindset to push through no matter what.

“The only easy day was yesterday” is a very famous US Navy Seals motto that is central to their famously extraordinarily difficult training and selection phase. Get up in the morning with that mindset and you’re ready to conquer the day. More prosaically, it teaches you to “embrace the suck”.

Why are the current restrictions an opportunity to develop your Mental Toughness? Two reasons.

First, as we saw above, these restrictions are a good time to start training outside in more rugged environments and to train barefoot. In turn, this definitely builds your resistance to minor discomforts. Walking barefoot does it very efficiently but doing pull-ups on abrasive surfaces will also do that to you.

Second, living confined gets you to experience the benefits of a more mentally tough mindset right away. You go from a victim mentality having to suffer through this period to a “I don’t care, I’ll just power through” mindset.

Two tips to achieve this:

5. Experience the mental health benefits of physical activity

Our current lives are very different than what they used to be and it’s totally normal to experience mental health challenges. On the other hand, physical activity is an established way to alleviate a wide array of mental health symptoms. This can be very precious these days.

Try and increase your level of physical activity using the opportunities outlined above. You will get an immediate relief in terms of mental health. This will serve as further motivation to continue exercising. In terms of habits building, this is the reward that encourages you to continue with the habit.

Natural Movement improves your mental health mainly through 3 different pathways:

  • it decreases the barrier to entry for physical activity, in terms of time required, skills and equipment. You simply exercise more.
  • skills like balancing are very soothing by nature and you have to focus your whole body and mind to practice them efficiently. This translates to benefits that are very similar similar to the ones gained through meditation.
  • training at height or conquering your fears through vaulting over intimidating obstacles also gets you tangible benefits in terms of self-confidence.

If you experience benefits in both mental health and mental toughness after a few days, I guarantee you it will increase your motivation to sustain a habit of greater physical activity. What the current situation does is gets you to experience those benefits way faster. Another opportunity to seize!

6. Move on the ground (outside or in the comfort of your home)

Ground movements brings a lot of benefits but many of us tend to grow bored with them and prefer hard and intense workouts to the slower ground movement flows that are nevertheless staples in the Movnat method. There is also a slight social stigma associated to moving on the ground itself (except if you put down a yoga mat, that changes everything…).

But guess what? You’re now having to spend most of your time at home where your consumption of media has undoubtedly increased. So think about doing ground movement flows when you’re watching a movie or on your phone. We now have much more time at home. Let’s take advantage of it and build good habits for when life is rushed once again.

Please look at the free Movnat video series for guided mobility flows on the ground. You just have to follow in real time.

7. Incorporate movement in everyday activities

Another opportunity offered to us with this confinement is to incorporate movements in our everyday tasks. This is extremely beneficial over the long-term and being forced to stay at home means we have the time to slowly look for and exploit these opportunities. Some of us (especially if you don’t have kids!) might even be bored enough to have extra fun doing this.

Brushing your teeth for example, you can:

  • practice your deep squat for 3 mins
  • balance on one leg for 3 mins (change to the other in the evening)
  • stretch your calves
  • do ground movements if you have the space!

Need some ideas of everyday activities you can apply this strategy to? Try and add movement when you: do the laundry, do the cleaning, do the groceries (carry your shopping, don’t use a trolley), do the cooking, etc.

The best aspect of this is that each of these everyday activity is a trigger that will remind you of these new habits even after all restrictions are lifted!

Don’t forget you can also incorporate movement when you’re outside for a walk or a run. Again, look at your environment and the good thing is: those movement opportunities will stay where they are long after the restrictions have been lifted and they’ll be reminders for you to use them.

Bonus for parents: Train with your kids!

If, like me, you have your kids with you with 24/7 these days, take advantage of this change and train with them. That might not prevent you from going stir crazy, but it will expose them to you doing a physical activity. If you only work out at the gym in the work day, they never see you actually train.

Natural Movement is the perfect fitness training practice to adopt in front of them: they will want to imitate you and they actually can. It’s like training two generations at once: you train, and you motivate them to train and build a healthy habit at the same time.

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