Over the last few months the coronavirus pandemic has threatened the physical and emotional health of millions of people around the world and truly changed the way we all live our lives. 

It acts as a continuous reminder that we must pay attention to our everyday actions, from who we come into contact with and how often we wash our hands to how we feel and if we are developing symptoms. This heightened awareness of our health and increased focus on how we can prevent illness raises the question of whether the pandemic has completely changed our approach to health and wellbeing, not just now but forever. 

Changes to our eating habits 

Throughout the pandemic, most people will have seen some changes in their dietary habits. A combination of restaurant closures, more time at home and the economic impact of the pandemic have all had an influence on how people eat. 

With restricted access to ‘fast’ food, less frequent supermarket visits and more time to evaluate our eating habits and prepare fresh meals, it’s not a surprise that many have become more conscious about the foods they consume. Added to this, having a balanced, healthy diet is heavily linked by scientists to the strength of the immune system [1] –  another reason for people to improve their diets at this time. 

A survey conducted by FMCG Gurus found that, due to the constant questioning of their immunity and vulnerability to disease, consumers will revaluate their diets to maximise their health [2]. Although some may revert back to their old eating habits as lockdown restrictions are eased and more restaurants and bars open, some that have noticed the benefits of a healthier diet over the past few months may choose to implement this in their ‘normal’ life. 

Attention to hygiene

We have all been urged to wash our hands more often during lockdown, as well as to use hand sanitiser and anti-bacterial wipes regularly. Government guidelines on hygiene have become a part of our everyday lives and, for many, by now they will have become habit. This increased focused on personal hygiene can be clearly seen through our buying habits, too. At the beginning of lockdown, many supermarkets saw a shortage of hand soap, anti-bacterial gels and disinfectants, and people’s rush to buy the products illustrates a new, never-before seen focus on cleanliness. 

Hygiene habits built during the pandemic may be hard to shake. Not only have they become daily practices, there are concerns about a possible second wave of the pandemic, and scientists believe the virus is something we may have to live alongside for a long quite some time to come. The ongoing threat and anxiety about contracting the virus means people are unlikely to become lax about hygiene in the near future.  

Prioritising exercise 

When we first went into lockdown, there were only a few reasons UK citizens could leave their homes, including for essential shopping, going to the pharmacy and doing one hour of outdoor exercise per day. 

Many saw their daily hour of exercise as an ‘excuse’ to get out and enjoy some fresh air and, with far more time on their hands, some have taken up a new form of exercise during lockdown to keep themselves occupied. Furthermore, those who are no longer going to work will have found they are a lot less active whilst at home, and many will have made a conscious effort to get out and be active to avoid living a completely sedentary lifestyle. 

This increase in exercise is not only good for our physical health, but also our mental health. A global pandemic is, of course, an anxiety-triggering time for many, and can have an adverse effect on mental health. Exercise has been proven to deliver a variety of mental health benefits, such as better-quality sleep, stress relief and an overall improvement in mood [3].

Those who have developed a new found love for exercise during lockdown and have noticed the multitude of benefits are likely to keep daily activity as part of their routine post-lockdown, but exercise levels may decrease as peoples’ lives start to return to ‘normal’ and they have having less free time. 

A new interest in self-care

The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines self-care as ‘self-medication to promote health and prevent disease’ [4]. People have paid closer attention to self-care during lockdown, having recognised its importance when it comes to our overall health and wellbeing during such uncertain times. 

Self-care comes in many different forms and can differ from person to person. Popular forms include meditation, yoga, checking in with friends and family, taking time out to do things that bring you happiness, taking supplements that help support your mental and physical health and practicing mindfulness. 

Often we don’t make time for these acts of self-care when our lives are busy, but they are an extremely important component in ensuring we are looking after ourselves and should be prioritised as such. By making these activities a routine during lockdown, much like exercise or healthy eating, people will feel the benefits of self-care and will be more likely to make it a priority when life returns to some sort of normality. 

If there is anything positive to take from the coronavirus pandemic, it is the impact it has had on approaches to health and wellbeing. Not only has it allowed many of us more time to practice healthy routines and habits, and has given us greater time to reflect on our health and lifestyle choices, causing many of us to make healthier decisions for the long term. 

Dr Arianna Di Stadio is neuroscientist and co-founder of Hello Pure

[1] Harvard Medical School – How to boost your immune system

[2] FMCG Gurus – Evaluating the Uncertainty & Future Outlook of COVID-19

[3] University of Nebraska Medical Center, Exercise for Mental Health, 2006 

[4] The World Health Organisation