I write this as much of the UK is in yet another period of lockdown – and as much of the population admits to having gone up a size or two since spring and taken a downward path in the amount of exercise they’re taking.
This Covid has a lot to answer for! While lockdown is supposed to keep us safe and healthy, many pundits have pointed out in the media that while fewer of us may get the virus because of lockdown measures, many more of us will suffer from other debilitating problems in the months and possibly years ahead due to these very measures, a decline in physical health being an important factor.
Working from home has meant that we don’t get the natural exercise of walking to the bus/train and from it to the office. Seeing fewer people means we don’t walk to visit our friends. Not being allowed, half the time to even see most friends and family means we are less inclined to go out for a walk in the park or up the hill.
And now with the days getting very short and cold how many of us can force ourselves out of our kitchen to go for a walk on our own? Not many by the sounds of it. More immediately pleasurable is a piece of cake and a hot coffee and a phone call to that friend we can’t see any more.
A UK survey shows up to two-thirds of us have put on significant weight since March, and most people report eating more ‘comfort’ type foods and less of the healthier fresh and wholefoods. And a survey by Sport England has found that the number of adults doing less than 30 minutes of activity a week increased by nearly 10% since spring. This translates as three million fewer active people.
While younger people have been getting on their bikes and taking up running, older people have found their typical routes of exercise – the nearby gym, a regular dance/exercise class at a local hall or a visit to the swimming pool – have been closed.
So what are we to do in order to try to eat a healthier diet and be a bit more active in the winter months ahead?
Online food shopping – if you’re lucky enough to manage to book a slot – should be one great way to help yourself to a healthier diet. Most research shows that we are much more inclined to choose – and therefore eat – the ‘junk’ or less healthy types of food if we see (and maybe smell) it in front of us in a shop. Ordering online makes us much less inclined to do this and more able to stick to a (pre-written) list. Then if the food isn’t in your home, then you don’t eat it. I find this is fine if I have two or three fairly healthy ‘treats’ around. No cake or sweet biscuits or milk chocolate – but a nice small crusty piece of wholegrain bread topped with a good spoonful of unsweetened crunchy peanut butter does the trick for me. Gorgeous! Or a bit of dark chocolate – at first it didn’t seem sweet enough but now I love it. And both these treats are very healthy.
As for main meals and lunches – well with more time to spare and more time at home, and it being winter, there has been little excuse of late for me not to spend a bit of time making home-made veggie/bean soups and delicious stews and casseroles packed again with veggies as well as some lean meat or even fish. (A few ideas appear at the end.)
As for exercise – well it’s got to be switch on the telly, computer or laptop and follow one of the popular exercise gurus, doing a routine tailored to your capabilities. There are plenty of people to choose from such as the short and easy to follow ‘10-minute workout for seniors by The Body Coach’ (on Youtube); Move It or Lose It live classes – go to moveitorloseit.co.uk, subscription £4.99; or Joanna Marcinekova’s home workout for people aged 70-plus (also on You Tube) which are free.
Lastly – remember exercise doesn’t have to be ‘formal’ to do you good. I’ve been sweeping up leaves and doing a few other chores in the garden, as well as reaching up to clean some windows this week. And if you have stairs and are able – going up and down them gradually faster and faster is a great way to improve your cardio fitness.
Find out how many calories gardening burns.
Or if none of that sounds good – commit to walking a dog (eg a neighbour's dog or via Borrow My Doggy) and you’ll be doing your regular walking whether you like it or not!
- Butternut squash and carrot, roasted in small chunks then pureed with vegetable stock and a little ground cumin and coriander.
- Chopped celery, onion, carrot and white cabbage or broccoli and brown pasta shapes simmered in veggie stock and chopped tinned tomatoes. And herbs and spices as you like – garlic and thyme come to mind. And use canned cannellini beans or brown rice instead of the pasta if you like.
- Chicken stew: Chicken chunks (raw, or cooked leftovers, are fine), carrot, swede, celery, potato, in fairly large chunks, simmered in chicken stock with mixed herbs for an hour, and some finely sliced kale added for the last 15 minutes of cooking.
- Goulash: chunks of lean braising steak simmered in beef stock with slices of red pepper and onion, chopped canned tomatoes and plenty of sweet paprika, served with rice.
Visit our recipe section for soup and stew recipes.
Judith Wills is the author of the bestselling The Food Bible, White Owl Publishing, out now.