If the pandemic has taught us anything, it's that our health trumps everything else.
It seems like a never-ending vulnerability to the virus. Lifestyle ruts seem inescapable. There is a constant barrage of disturbing news and work-life balance has gone for a toss.
Yes, the pandemic has shaken the world and all of us are readjusting to the "new normal". For some, overall health has taken a backseat. But there may be a silver lining too where some are positively changing their approach towards health and wellness.
For better or for worse, there has been change in the way people consume foods, exercise, pay attention to hygiene and inculcate other forms of self-care. The health and wellness industry is booming while others are struggling to stay afloat.
Has Covid Changed People’s Diets?
For Kritika, who is a dancer and a yoga instructor, the pandemic has brought a positive change in her eating habits, and given her an opportunity to indulge in a lot of cooking at home.
“I used to eat out at restaurants very often before the lockdown. It’s hard to choose a salad when there’s pizza and what not on the menu,” she said.
Sailesh has always had a healthy lifestyle and a healthy diet. "But otherwise, I made sure that I was eating a lot of veggies, greens and taking a bit of protein, a little more than normal amid COVID," he said.
The severity of the virus and restrictions imposed pushed Dr Sameeksha M Moodbagil to consider healthier food options during the pandemic. "I consume a balanced diet. But I don't restrict foods," she said, adding that along with working out, nutrition is equally important to stay healthy.
But not everyone has been conscious of the foods they consume.
"Staying home a lot, and delivery restaurants still functioning, I have been ordering a lot more," Joseph said.
"There’s been an increase in comfort foods. So it's not the other way. It's the bad way," Bharat said.
'More Searches for Health During the Pandemic'
"One can't paint the whole society with a broad brush...There is also a large section of people who will not eat healthy come what may," Dr Shikha Sharma, Founder of Nutriwel Health said.
So, when the society is divided into different sections, the fence sitters, the ones with the mob mentality, are the ones aiming for a healthy diet.
People are realizing if they don't eat healthy, it can be fatal for them. So, they've started searching about health, Dr Sharma said, adding that not everyone who's reading is actively doing something about it.
So, there is a huge shift of information seekers. But there is a marginal shift in practicing.
Growing Demand for Dietary Supplements
Dietary supplements have been flying off the shelves of pharmacies since the onset of the pandemic. Despite questions about the overall benefit, doctors continue to prescribe them and it has become a part and parcel of our diet.
"Multivitamins, cod liver oil and vitamin C tablets have become breakfast accompaniments," Joseph said.
But what is the contribution of a supplement?
All of us have a lottery mindset, which means that we want all our problems to be solved by a pill, Dr Sharma said.
"People are still not eating as much fruit, vegetables as they should be...If you're really eating healthy, your need for a supplement is hardly there."
Dr Ambrish Mithal, Chairman & Head - Endocrinology & Diabetes, Max Hospital, Delhi, echoed Dr Sharma's point.
"People are taking all kinds of immunity boosters, without any knowledge. Healthy diet and regular exercise. These are the mainstays of immunity. Not popping pills."
Heightened Emphasis on Exercise & Mental Health
For Sailesh, working out and breathing exercises have become a regular thing. "I’ve been doing these for a few years now. But in the lockdown, it became a conscious practice more than anything."
Dr Sameeksha who got into fitness again, almost a year ago, swears by a healthy routine. "My temper is so much better. I have started eating healthier. I sleep much better and I don't fall sick very often...Now, I can’t go a single day without a workout."
Meanwhile, it's been hard for Bharat to indulge in any kind of exercise since the pandemic. While lack of social distancing and people without masks discouraged him to go out, the idea of a home workout didn't seem enticing either.
However, health today has a bigger dimension, that of mental health. It is more than just being free from illness.
With heightened sadness, loneliness and all of us wondering what is going to happen next, the pandemic has made it easy to spiral out, and prompted a renewed focus on mental health. There has been rise of mental health coaches, people are seeking mentors, even if it's online.
"Earlier, I had a lot of distractions - friends at work, movies on weekends. After COVID everything disappeared. All the issues came out. That is when I decided to seek help," Bharat said.
New Interest in Hygiene & Self-care
The pandemic has made us wash hands more and use sanitizers regularly. Hygiene habits have become hard to shake. As more people work from home in unprecedented numbers, people have incorporated new practices for cleaning in their personal spaces. But it can be seen in other spaces too.
Joseph says, maintaining distance while talking to a stranger has become a norm.
“Anxiousness creeps in if somebody leans it too close. I strife away from my path if I see a maskless person in my vicinity.”
Kritika says washing all groceries as soon as they're brought home is a weekly, tiring ritual.
People have also incorporated new practices for self-care which have become a part of everyday lives and, for many, by now they will have become a habit.
"Small acts of self-care like brewing my favourite tea, reorganising my room, some skincare, listening to some music and just dancing randomly, taking walks outside my apartment, have become a part of my everyday routine. I've started to value just how therapeutic they can be,” Kritika said.
Long-Term Shift in Perspective towards Health
Human understanding of what it means to be healthy and well has always been evolving but Covid has brought a paradigm shift in lifestyles and attitudes towards it. But how deep are these changes?
"Covid has become increasingly clear that while it is a viral pandemic, it is actually like a double epidemic. This means that in populations that have very high prevalence of non-communicable disorders, like diabetes, and hypertension, the virus effects disproportionately," Dr Mithal said.
If we keep our baseline health impact, our diabetes in control, blood pressure and our general health better, then obviously, the impact that a Corona type virus will have on us will be much attenuated...In other words, we hope that this will lead to a rejuvenation of the health and wellness space.Dr Ambrish Mithal, Chairman & Head - Endocrinology & Diabetes, Max Hospital, Delhi
Dr Sharma thinks health will start taking a positive connotation, an aspirational connotation. And a lot of young people would start looking at health, as something to aspire for, not called a "health freak".
There is will also be a generational shift in the kind of foods consumed with all the exposure over the next few years and have a deeper impact, Dr Sharma added. While there is a conscious now, it might take a few more years into action.
"What changed for me because of the pandemic is that, as cliche as it sounds, life is really short and I can't let one more day go without being my healthy self," Kritika said.