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Healthy Habits in a Time of Crisis

Plate of fruit and workout gear

Our lives have changed drastically in the past couple of weeks. Our routines of work, volunteering, church, meeting friends for a round of golf or at a coffee shop, school, going to the gym – all completely upended. These can be stressful changes.

If you or a loved one are also dealing with a prostate cancer diagnosis, stress may be compounded by other concerns – unsure of your risk of contracting the coronavirus, medication shortages, crowded medical facilities, canceled or delayed procedures, your caregiver becoming sick, even a shortage of toilet paper at the market. We want to acknowledge that these are very real fears, and encourage you to discuss any medical concerns with your doctor. You may also want to review the recent Facebook Live presentation by PCF’s CEO, Dr. Jonathan Simons, where he addresses questions about risk based on prostate cancer stage and treatment.

While there are many things that are changing as a result of this pandemic, it can provide some peace of mind to hone in on the things you can control: now is the time to maintain – or start – healthy habits. Habits are essentially routines – something we do on a regular basis. If you’re craving some structure to your day because your regular external routines are disrupted, healthy habits can help provide that structure. Putting an 11 A.M. walk on your calendar every day (while maintaining the recommended physical distance!) offers not just a benefit of physical activity, but gives you something to do if some of your other activities have been postponed.

During this time, you want your immune system to be at its strongest. Research shows that your immune system is affected by stress, sleep, exercise, and diet – all of which, in turn, can be habits.

We’re not suggesting that people necessarily embark on lifestyle makeover. Let’s keep it simple. When possible, continue to follow your normal routines (adjusted for local public health orders) and the recommendations in PCF’s wellness guide, including:

  • Eating unprocessed, colorful food when available, and staying hydrated
  • Exercising daily, even if it’s just a walk around the neighborhood (staying 6-10 feet away from people not in your household)
  • Remaining calm and keeping stress low

The coronavirus has made many things more difficult. But other things may be easier.

Fresh food: What CAN you buy at the grocery store? Fresh vegetables and fruit! Sure, the packets of instant rice (simple carbs, high in sodium) are gone….but produce aisles have tended to be less picked-over and are restocked daily. Particularly if you may be immunocompromised during chemotherapy treatment, follow your doctor’s guidance on consuming raw produce. Make sure to wash and peel it, and consider cooking your vegetables until we know more about transmission of the virus.

Regular exercise: Working from home, no commute? Fill that extra time with a walk. If you’ve always wanted to try yoga, here’s your chance: studios may be closing but many offer online classes, with a free trial for a limited period. You might try: MyYogaWorks or YouTube which have classes for all skill levels.

More calm, less stress: For some, this may be the most challenging of all. The constant feed of news updates – most of it bad – can be unrelenting. Yes, it’s important to stay current on recommendations in your community and beyond – but it’s also important to unplug and focus on your mental wellness for some time each day.

Many of us have seen our social connections shrink due to “Social Distancing,” but we know that social connections are a huge part of mental wellness. That’s why even as experts recommend “Physical Distancing,” we encourage you to up your virtual social connecting. Some of your friends and family may have more time on their hands and would love to reconnect through a phone call, email, video chat, social media…or even a letter! Take this opportunity to “reach out and touch someone,” as the old phone commercial said. Missing that weekly card game? Many online tools allow you to play together with friends online.

With this extra time, you may be able to tackle a few DIY home projects that you’ve been putting off, learn a new skill, or try an online course about something you’ve always wanted to learn. YouTube is obviously a vast resource for this.

We want to be realistic: The coronavirus pandemic is likely to substantially affect our lives in the near term. You may not be able to adopt or continue all of these healthy habits at once, and these tips are simply suggestions. PCF encourages you to discuss specific concerns about your physical and mental health with your doctor. He or she can help you with a diet, exercise routine, and stress reduction plan that takes your personal health into account. But if you can try one or two small changes – grab some kale to steam for dinner instead of fighting the crowds in the pasta aisle – you may find the next few weeks a bit easier to bear. PCF has a page with additional resources related to COVID-19.

Becky Campbell
Becky Campbell, MD, develops science content at the Prostate Cancer Foundation. She received her MD from Washington University in St. Louis. She has previously worked in outcomes research and in science education.

About Aaron Gomez

Photo of Aaron Gomez
Aaron Gomez is the Video and Content Producer for the Prostate Cancer Foundation. Aaron writes and produces weekly blogs and original videos that work to inform and inspire.

About Jason Musni

Jason Musni
Jason Musni is a Research and Content intern at the Prostate Cancer Foundation. He is from Las Vegas Nevada and graduated from University of San Diego in 2019.