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The Silver Lining of COVID-19

As the author of a health column I would be remiss to disregard the story that has befallen the world like a spectre, normalizing such phrases as ‘social distancing’ and ‘flattening the curve.’ This year, COVID-19—the novel coronavirus—has played tyrant to us all. Media headlines list only virus updates; dinner conversations gravitate to similar topics. Citizens are now accustomed to working from home and surgical masks have become a staple for everyday attire. Schools have shut down and virtual classrooms reign. Without the usual coteries of students, our beloved Chinese University of Hong Kong echoes with the eerie stillness of an old, countryside barn rather than with the teeming to-and-fro that is characteristic of the renowned centre of higher education.

In trying times, often the silver lining is buried well beneath the surface. Rather than bombarding you with more of the repetitive bedlam (reminding you to wash your hands or addressing society’s newfound appreciation for toilet paper), highlighting the opportunity for personal growth seems more appropriate.

Unwonted and stressful as the coming months may seem, two fundamental paths emerge: you can bunker down and wait to resume your old haunts and habits once COVID-19 subsides; or, you can use this globally-imposed hiatus as an interval to reset your health. My vote goes to the latter. More time at home, fewer social outings, and extended repose affords a rare circumstance to recalibrate our negligence—namely, physical fitness and mindfulness.

Think of the exercise programme that, in the bygone days of a coronavirus-free world, your schedule did not allow. Here is your chance to start practising yoga before breakfast, now that your commute to work requires a laptop rather than a car or train. Here is your chance to implement a routine of pushups before bed now that happy hour is cancelled indefinitely. Here is your chance to finally start using that stationary bike in your closet which has accrued more dust than mileage. With commercial gyms closed, the opportunity to spend more time walking or running outdoors readily awaits. Bodyweight calisthenics, stretching and mobility drills, and cardiovascular training can all be performed as part of a home workout regimen.

A comprehensive health reset includes not only physical fitness but mental acuity, both components are as integral to holistic health as hydrogen and oxygen are to water. Owing to the pandemic, newfound hours at home allow for increased opportunity to reflect and sit quietly. Regular meditation can beget focus, calmness, and even happiness that before may have seemed out of reach. Free apps such as Headspace or Calm can guide you to a calmer, more attentive comportment.

Yet, with these newfound hours, abusing our smartphones seems inevitable. Colourful photos and addicting haptics are engineered to keep our eyes stuck like magnets. Rather than sitting and scrolling without aim, take stock of how you use the quiet moments of the day; notice when you reach for your phone and ask yourself if it is out of impulse or intention. Like rays of sunlight peeking through a cloudy horizon, pockets of productivity emerge from minimizing smartphone use, making room for new habits such as reading or journaling. To beget a healthier, more mindful relationship with your smartphone, build a new habit of social (media) distancing.

Today, the state of the world remains intractable. The virus has spread dramatically, afflicting society and economy in unprecedented fashion. Notwithstanding, there remain facets of life well within control of each individual. The novel coronavirus presents many of us with an inordinate amount of time for personal development—an opportunity to improve physical and mental fitness and the construction of healthy habits.

Time reserved for work and socializing can be instead allocated toward optimizing your health, which has never been of greater consequence. Ailments can be curbed with a strong body and improved mental constitution; together they are like the armour we wear and the shield we carry. Habits built during these inauspicious months can become mainstays in future times of both plenty and drought.

COVID-19 has brought a lion’s share of troubles, and though the endgame remains unknown, we each have the capacity to take command of the things we do each day to make our tomorrows better. The opportunity for a foundational reset is upon us.

The silver lining of the novel coronavirus may be that, after the flood, we surface a little stronger, a little wiser, and a whole lot healthier.

Phil Rosen

Illustration by Amy Tam

Working-from-home exercise habits health novel coronavirus COVID-19