But while carbs and screen time can bring a satisfying rush of endorphins, the ideal Covid pastime should offer more sustaining thrills. That means an activity that’s good for your body, mind and the planet.
For some, it’s a first-time foray into gardening, a low-impact physical activity that has been shown to reduce stress levels. Another option is the UK-led trend of “wild swimming,” seeking out the nearest open water for a mind-clearing dip. (Want to double down on the benefits? Try ice swimming.)
Whatever you choose, remember that even in the most trying moments, it’s worth taking the time to care for yourself. Your body — and the planet — will thank you.
Go ride a bike
The most sought-after vehicle of the Covid-19 pandemic has just two wheels: Bicycles flew off store shelves from the early days of the crisis.
“Bikes are like the new toilet paper,” Houston bicycle shop owner Eric Attayi told CNN in an earlier interview. It’s clear why bikes have been a popular choice. At a time when many are anxious about using public transit due to the virus, bikes offer affordable, Earth-friendly transport plus plenty of fresh air.
Riding a bike is also good for you. Cyclists have a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and death when compared with other commuters, found researchers at Glasgow University. (The benefits more than offset the risk of bike accidents.)
Play in the garden
Gardeners harvest more than prize tomatoes. Tending plants can also pay off in reductions of the stress hormone cortisol, according to a research paper in the Journal of Health Psychology.
Bringing down cortisol levels goes far beyond mood; it can affect your immune system, digestive tract, blood pressure and even the sugar in your bloodstream.
For older gardeners, the low-impact, steady movement can also be an enjoyable way to fulfill the 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity recommended by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
And you don’t need a big yard to enjoy the benefits of gardening. Whether you’re volunteering in a local park, joining a community garden or using a tiny patio for a container garden, even city dwellers can join in.
Done right, gardening is a hobby that helps the planet, too. When they replace lawns, an urban household vegetable garden can reduce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change.
Run your way to cardio health
In fact, athletes looking for pandemic-safe, outdoor workouts have driven a running boom since the Covid-19 pandemic began. That’s good news for health. Even running a small amount reduces the risk of premature death, found an international team of researchers in a 2019 metanalytic study.
And trading the treadmill for an outdoor jog can have environmental benefits, as well. Most gyms use air conditioners and workout machines that suck energy and increase the carbon footprint of your workout. Stay outside, and the only energy you’ll use will come from your muscles.
Keep up the habit through the winter, and you’ll be rewarded with a calorie-burning bonus. Working out in the cold can strengthen your metabolism, zap calories and improve your mood.
Learn to cook
When restaurants closed to mitigate the pandemic, people across the globe turned to their own kitchens instead.
That could be a silver lining for our health and finances. Eating home-cooked meals is linked to higher-quality diets and healthy body mass index, research has shown. Not only that, cooking at home can reduce the expense of eating well.
And if you choose ingredients with care, cooking at home can also make meals more planet-friendly.
Strategies to green your diet include reducing red-meat consumption, using unprocessed ingredients and buying some items locally. You get extra points for avoiding the plastic waste associated with take-out food from restaurants.
Try out wild swimming
Indoor pools are another pandemic casualty: You probably won’t catch Covid-19 through the water, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but it can be hard to maintain proper social distance in changing rooms and pool facilities.
That’s no reason to stay on dry land. Take up “wild swimming,” and you can join a trending movement of swimmers seeking out places to bathe in lakes, rivers and oceans. You’ll be saving yourself — and the planet — a big dose of chemicals, as well, because some chemicals used to disinfect swimming pools can be hazardous to human health.
And in addition to the well-documented benefits of swimming for exercise, the time spent outdoors will be good for your health. Outside time has been found to reduce stress, improve your mood and help you sleep better.
If you’re willing to brave chilly water, your health could get an additional boost. Some practitioners believe that swimming in cold or even icy water can help with chronic pain, depression and inflammation.
Row, row, row your boat
As warm weather arrived in spring 2020, small boats were a big deal. The paddlesports industry, which includes canoes, kayaks, rafts and stand-up paddleboards, saw a huge uptick in sales as people across the globe looked for ways to get outside.
Maybe that’s because boats can offer natural social distancing; while a running path or bike trail can put you close to others, there is more room to spread out on the water.
But paddling also offers a big health benefit. The twisting motion used to move a paddle through the water is great for boosting core strength. A stronger core can help banish slouching, improve balance and prevent lower-back pain or injury, according to researchers at Harvard Medical School.
And whether it’s a scenic kayak trip or a session on a stand-up paddleboard, you’ll be propelled across the water by your strength alone. That makes the sport a greener alternative to boats that run on fossil fuels.
Take a “plalk” to clean up pandemic trash
After moving to West Sussex, England, writer David Sedaris started an unusual pair of hobbies: hours-long walks and picking up roadside litter. (The combo is actually gaining traction, with some calling the activity “plalking.” The jogging version is “plogging.”)
While picking up trash isn’t the most glamorous hobby, Sedaris had walked right into a potent combination of physical, psychological and environmental benefits.
Walking is excellent, low-impact exercise, and it’s easy to scale the distance and pace to suit any fitness level. Meanwhile, doing helpful things — such as leaving your local area a little bit cleaner — has been shown to boost happiness.
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And there has never been a better time to take it up. The pandemic has created a surge of plastic waste, including disposable surgical masks and gloves. (The CDC still recommends that surgical masks be reserved for health care workers and first responders.)
If you’re going to help pick up pandemic trash, it’s important to stay safe: Wear a mask and gloves, and always put litter directly into a sturdy garbage bag.
Jen Rose Smith is a writer based in Vermont. Find her work at jenrosesmith.com, or follow her on Twitter @jenrosesmithvt.