Lockdowns and pandemics, it’s all so 2020.
As we close in on a New Year and we’re putting more distance between COVID-19 and the future, I have to admit there are a few things I actually miss about surviving my first world pandemic.
While I am continually reminded of the extreme lifestyle changes we all underwent in order to keep our communities safe, and will never forget the losses that the pandemic brought, there were some positives that came with emerging from the other end of the tunnel.
Of course, I’m not saying I would ever want to go through that again, but there are some key lifestyle changes that came out of my 90 days in the hole.
First off, I signed up for HBO, and was able to binge-watch “Games of Thrones,” “The Sopranos,” and “Breaking Bad” in a string of all-nighters that usually ended with, “just one more episode, honey?”
Like many pent-up cyclists, I rediscovered the joys of indoor training. Well, I don’t know if joy is the right word, but like just a lot of other bike geeks out there, I set myself up with my first indoor trainer in decades, and spun away the lockdown blues.
In fact, there are other new, non-cycling-related habits that I picked up during the darkest days of COVID-19 that I am determined to stick with that have not only helped my overall state of mind, but have helped me become a better cyclist.
WALKING: Yes, as a lifelong cyclist, I was never much of a fan of walking, unless there was a waterfall, mountaintop, or a bar waiting at the end.
I was never quite part of that breed who would drive around a parking lot for 10 minutes to find a spot closer to the door of the mall, but on most days I’d rather bike, skateboard, ski, swim, or drive than walk. All that changed during lockdown.
In Spain, where I am based during the racing season, authorities did not allow anyone to go outside their homes for 90 days straight unless it was a trip to the supermarket or a medical issue. So to avoid going bat-crazy, I would slip a shopping bag under my arm and take the scenic route to the grocery store.
I started doing it every day, and it soon led to a new appreciation for walking that I am sticking with. According to the Mayo Clinic, a “daily brisk walk can help you live a healthier life. Brisk walking can help you: Maintain a healthy weight and lose body fat. Prevent or manage various conditions, including heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, cancer and type 2 diabetes.” Sounds good to me.
A morning stroll of 20 to 30 minutes is now part of my daily routine. It clears the mind, opens up the body, and starts the day with fresh energy.
YOGA: Years of chasing bike races in low-budget European rentals, sleeping in low-rent hotels, and desperately hunting cycling fitness in between made a mess of my back, posture, and overall flexibility.
During the lockdown, I could feel my body closing down even more due to the lack of mobility and an increasing anxiety of what the f*ck was going on in the world.
I’ve dabbled in yoga over the years, but I started fitting in regular 45-minute sessions three to four times a week during the lockdown to help ease the tension. It really helped me find a center and balance during all the unfolding craziness.
According to Statista.com, about 10 percent of the U.S. population practices yoga. Anyone who’s stuck with it knows that yoga and consistent stretching and breathing exercises become essential. After sticking with it more than a year, all the pain in my neck, shoulders, and hamstrings melted away, and helped my recovery after rides.
This season, when I am on the road chasing bike races at those low-rent hotels I will log onto YouTube to find a short, 20-minute session before heading to the start zone. Aummmmm.
NO SUGAR: Another thing I whacked during the lockdown, processed sugar.
Working in Spain with its Mediterranean diet already gives me a head start for anyone living in the U.S., where it takes a lot more dedication to steer clear of processed foods, but I knew I was still taking in too much sugar.
According to a Harvard University study, the average American adult consumes about 17 teaspoons or 71.4 grams of sugar every day. That’s 57 pounds a year of added sugar. The American Heart Association recommends six teaspoons a day, or about 25 grams.
One easy tip: I stopped putting sugar packs into my morning café con leche, and since I have two big coffees a day at the local bar, that was 10 grams a day right there. That adds up to nearly eight pounds of processed sugar a year. I’ve also eliminated all soft drinks, fruit juices, and any other sweets, chocolates, or breaded desserts. Once you give up the processed sugar fix, an apple or tangerine tastes like heaven.
READING BOOKS: Even before the pandemic, I was getting fed up with all the noise and distractions on social media. I took the Twitter and Facebook apps off my iPhone, and immediately “saved” myself hours of the day.
According to Statistica, the average person spends 147 minutes per day on social media. Do the math, and that’s nearly two and a half hours. I was never quite that much of a junky, but after I took all that noise off my iPhone, I suddenly discovered I had more time to do stuff like, well, yoga and going for a walk.
I also stopped leaving my iPhone next to my bed at night, so what do I do? I read books. I’ve rediscovered the joy of digging into a good book, and I’ve been plowing through about one a week for the past two years.
NO ALCOHOL: Anyone’s who’s ever joined me at a bike race knows that there’s nothing more that I enjoy than dipping into a good bottle of rioja after a hard day at the races.
The old saying of “racing gets you places” can be amended to include getting to great wine places. The grand tours of Italy, Spain, and France open up like a wish-list for any wine aficionado, but I knew I was past due of giving the liver a breather.
So at the tail end of the pandemic, I finally nipped the string to alcohol. That’s not to say I don’t still enjoy a frothy beer or a fine gran reserva, but I’ve limited it to weekends.
In the U.S., the average American drinks 78 liters of beer per year. I’m guilty as charged of doing my bit to keep that average high. When I stopped cold turkey a few months ago when I was recovering from my second bout of COVID-19, the first week was just dreadful. By week 2, it was a bit easier.
Now I’ve even grown to enjoy non-alcoholic beer (adding a twist of lime helps). And the most amazing thing? That “curva de la felicidad” — the curve of happiness — that was stubbornly hanging around the middle section no matter how hard I rode has melted away in months.
The upshot is these lockdown habits have me setting new personal records on Strava on just about every ride I take.