Although it’s critical to keep your distance physically, it’s more important than ever to stay socially connected. In an era of uprooting routines to prevent the spread of coronavirus, people can keep their minds and bodies healthy by staying connected with loved ones, exercising and eating nutritious foods. “Physical distance doesn’t have to mean emotional or social distance,” said Bonnie Hovel, the director of operations at TLC Services, a Villages counseling service. “We can initiate communicating with others and check on them. Even if it’s just a phone call for people who are alone, just to know people care about them. When you’re stressed, your immune system isn’t working very well.” TLC, an all-Villagers volunteer organization operated and staffed by retired mental health professionals, offers free professional mental health services and currently is taking phone or video calls. To keep mentally healthy in a time of social distancing, Hovel, of the Village of Collier, advises brainstorming activities.

“Try new things — a recipe or a game or some craft that you’ve wanted to try, and turn them into fun,” she said.

Even if you can only get out to your lanai, sitting out in nature helps to de-stress.

De-stressing activities also include visualization. Picturing something safe and comfortable while thinking of gratitude will help with anxious feelings, she said.  

Mental health also is aided by social connections, she said, so engage in regular video and phone calls with friends and family, and maintain physical health through at-home exercises, such as yoga.

Keep Yourself Moving

While she’s not teaching large groups right now, yoga instructor Teri Lee, of the Village of Mallory Square, has found some open places outdoors to practice her craft.

Doing yoga outdoors allows her to soak up some vitamin D while getting in exercise. Yoga encourages deep breathing and helps to put people in the moment, which reduces stress when worrying about loved ones.  

“Take some time for yourself and lose (yourself) in the act of yoga, so you’re not stressing with everything going on around you,” Lee said.

Brandon Alderman, a professor at the Department of Kinesiology and Health at Rutgers University in New Jersey, said adults should be exercising 30 minutes a day, which can be as simple as getting up from the couch. It’s a way to incorporate some low-level activity into the day.

“First thing everyone can do is stand up and walk while they’re talking to loved ones,” he said. “There’s no reason we should be sitting down as we’re talking to our loved ones.”

Getting up and moving is not just about exercise, though. We can accomplish tasks while moving, such as cleaning the house, which helps with mental clarity.

“Staying fit and active equates to healthy, and it is more important than ever to remain healthy,” Heidi Metz said.

The Village of Antrim Dells resident is running a “boot camp” exercise program in her yard for small groups of her neighbors and friends.

“Exercise and fresh air are good for you in so many ways and doctors are saying healthy people are at less risk,” she said.

Besides, the social interaction is a large part of personal well-being, Metz said.

“So we are practicing social distancing and maintaining some social interaction,” she said.

Exercise physiologist Jaime Brenkus, whose aunt and uncle live in the Village of Lynnhaven, has visited The Villages to record his exercise videos. He is offering his videos for free to help people get their exercise in a time of social distancing.

Exercise reins in stress and brings about a sense of normalcy, Brenkus said.

“It’s a very chaotic time right now,” Brenkus said. “When you start to move in the morning, it may not be the ideal time for an intense workout, but the happiest, healthiest people incorporate exercise in the morning.”

It gets the blood flowing, he said, and helps the way the body and mind operate throughout the rest of the day.

With eight-minute programs, the idea is to encourage people to get moving without spending a ton of time doing it.

 “It helps you feel like you are in control and you own the day,” he said. “You’re doing something today that your future self will thank you for.”

Brenkus said exercise strengthens the immune system, along with a nutritious diet.

Eat Well

Nutritious foods also help us stay healthy, said The Villages Health dietitian Kristen Curtis. If stocking up on nonperishables, she encourages buying dried or canned beans, which are nutritious plant-based proteins that can be used in soups and casseroles. She said canned fish, such as salmon and tuna, are good shelf-stable items as well.

But don’t forget about the refrigerator.

“Now is a perfect time to use up perishable foods to make healthy, freezer-friendly meals,” she said.

Quarantines are a much different experience than times of inclement weather, she said, since the oven, stove, microwave and outdoor grill are all options.

“In times of panic, people tend to navigate toward comfort and convenience foods, which are often less nutritious,” she said. “Finding ways to include lean protein, whole grains, fruits and vegetables will get us through this feeling well.”

By consuming high levels of vitamins D, C and K and zinc, we can keep our immunity up, said Jennifer Waxman, executive director at The Villages Grown. 

The Villages Grown offers local nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables, such as microgreens, citrus, beets and kale, which are sold quickly after harvesting to ensure the vitamins are intact for immune wellness, Waxman said.

The Villages Grown’s Mobile Airstream currently is open seven days a week, and so is the store. Both the store and the Mobile Airstream are taking safety precautions, such as associates wearing gloves, wiping down surfaces and items, and limiting the number of customers at a time.

Waxman said The Villages Grown is making every effort to be available for Villagers because of the importance of nutrition to building and maintaining a healthy immune system. 

“Knowing that their key to wellness is in their own neighborhood, we’re going to be there for them as long as we can,” Waxman said.

Staff writer Julie Butterfield can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5254, or julie.butterfield@thevillagesmedia.com.