Early on in the coronavirus pandemic with many people spending a lot of time at home, a wise friend told me that people will likely come out of this “a chunk, a hunk, or a drunk.” So, here we are four months later, and I have observed these outcomes in several of my patients.

Some admit they have been drinking more, some say they have been snacking more, and thankfully, some have actually lost weight and have been eating healthier and exercising more. One man realized early on that he could not continue letting himself go. He started counting calories, lost 20 pounds, and is feeling great. He feels he has more energy to do the things he wants to do. He is not alone, and you can do it, too!

This pandemic has disrupted our normal routines, which I believe makes this the perfect time to establish new habits. And, since we are forced to change our habits, we might as well choose healthy ones. Start with a little walk. Plan some time for a bike ride. Maybe you can borrow a used piece of home exercise equipment or dig out the old NordicTrack from the basement. If you need some motivation and could use a companion, make plans to work out with a friend or family member in person or on the phone. If you are ready for a long-term commitment, maybe get a dog and take it regularly for a walk.

Now is also a great time to stop smoking. A new routine or being away from your regular workplace for an extended period allows you to avoid some of the triggers that make you want to smoke, such as your usual “smoke break time,” your favorite locations to smoke, and perhaps the people with whom you smoke.

Certainly, times are tougher and none of this is easy, but please do not make it harder for yourself by becoming addicted to a substance. That will not solve your problems and will only make them worse. If you feel like you should cut down on your drinking, if you feel annoyed by people criticizing your drinking, if you feel guilty about your drinking, or if you find you need a drink in the morning, then it is probably time to cut down on your drinking. If cutting down is difficult, then please ask for help. Consider contacting someone from Alcoholics Anonymous, your primary care provider, a friend or family member, or do an internet search for help in your area.

Whatever you decide to do to make yourself healthier, now is the best time to start. Start small, do it regularly, and soon you will have some new habits, a healthier you, and a little silver lining from these unusual times.

Andrew Ellsworth, MD is part of The Prairie Doc® team of physicians and currently practices family medicine in Brookings, South Dakota. For free and easy access to the entire Prairie Doc® library, visit www.prairiedoc.org and follow Prairie Doc® on Facebook, featuring On Call with the Prairie Doc® a medical Q&A show streamed most Thursdays at 7 p.m. central.

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