Steps to take for your physical health
Three in four working Americans say that a healthy lifestyle is very important to them, yet only 1 in 4 workers feels that they are doing a good job of acting on the things that support a healthy lifestyle, such as eating a healthy diet or getting enough exercise.1 Guardian’s report Mind, Body, and Wallet: Workforce well-being in the pandemic era looks at the state of workforce well-being today and explores how workers’ physical health has been altered by the COVID-19 pandemic.
While many Americans report that their physical health was not impacted negatively by the pandemic, the cumulative stresses of the situation — rapid lifestyle changes, the transition to remote work, and the pressures of juggling caregiving or homeschooling — have taken a toll. One in five workers say that COVID-19 contributed to unhealthy habits related to fitness, weight, and diet. While our day-to-day lifestyle may be forever changed by the coronavirus pandemic, there are steps you can take to prevent illness, stay physically active, and support your overall physical well-being.
Take a preventive approach
Routine medical care is an important part of your overall well-being. Annual checkups can help screen for conditions like heart disease and diabetes and provide interventive treatment if there are early warning signs of a more serious illness or disease.2 Having an annual visit with your primary care doctor can provide a baseline of your health metrics — cholesterol, blood pressure, blood counts, and other vital statistics — which can identify trends that may need to be addressed or monitored further.
More than half (54 percent) of baby boomers report that they are excellent about keeping up with routine doctor visits and checkups, compared to only 34 percent of Generation Z. This may be due to the prevalence of high deductible health plans that often have hefty out-of-pocket costs, which can be prohibitive for younger workers. To help manage medical costs, find out if your employer offers a Health Savings Account (HSA) or a Flexible Spending Account (FSA), which can help with tax savings and can assist with financial strategizing for short and long-term health expenses.
And consider using telemedicine to access medical care, which can help your medical facility or health care provider extend their resources, which may be strained during the pandemic.
Stay physically active
It can be challenging to fit a full-body workout routine into a busy schedule. And during the pandemic, gym closures and remote work added another limitation on daily activity; 42 percent of workers reported a decrease in physical activity during the pandemic. Even adding in a little bit of physical activity can make a difference in your physical health. Aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity a week.3 This can include anything that gets your heart pumping — an interval spin class or just a brisk walk. Across a week, this could look like 30 minutes, five times a week, or even smaller chunks throughout a day.
Many employers offer programs to incentivize fitness. Talk to your manager or HR department to find out if there are rebates for exercise classes or equipment, or other programs that could help you integrate a fitness routine into your day.
Develop a healthy diet pattern
Thirty percent of workers report that their eating habits have not been as good during the pandemic. Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet has numerous benefits on your physical health: it can improve energy, boost immunity, lower the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers, and may even help you live longer.4
A healthy diet will look different for different people based on their age, gender, and physical and nutritional needs. Generally, a healthy diet pattern is one that features fruit and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat or fat-free dairy or non-dairy products, and has less added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium.5
Plan ahead with voluntary benefits
Even if you follow a fitness routine and eat healthy, accidents can still happen, impacting your physical health. And if you’re too sick or injured to work, it can take a toll on your financial health. Roughly half of all workers with medical insurance say that they need to borrow money to pay for an unexpected medical expense.6 Voluntary benefits like disability and accident insurance, or even plans like cancer insurance, can offset out-of-pocket costs if you are sick or injured. These plans are often available through your employer, or can be purchased directly, and can help prepare you for potential health difficulties and any financial challenges that may come from the unexpected.
Make health a habit
Physical health is just one part of your overall health; workers who report lower emotional health report lower physical health as well. Exercising, eating healthy, reducing stress, and not smoking (including vaping), and reducing alcohol intake are all pieces that work together to promote physical health. Consider making a plan with small, actionable goals. Remember to take things one step at a time, because even small changes can make a difference. And always reach out to your doctor with questions, concerns, or just to schedule your annual checkup.
Talk to your employer to find out more about the health and wellness benefits they offer to help you on your path to a healthy lifestyle.