It’s a major understatement to say that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed our lives. The virus and its spread has uprooted so many systems of our daily lives from a societal to an individual level. On a long-term scale, there have been both positive and negative impacts from the pandemic. While sitting at home (we’re all doing more of that these days) I’ve definitely found myself with plenty more time to reflect on all these changes and impacts, and what they mean for us going forward.
Eat.Think.Live. is all about exploring health & wellness in a mindful way, and I wanted to use this post to share some of the research and reflecting I have been doing. I hope you find it informative, and maybe even inspiring when it comes to thinking about your own health habits.
Truth: this pandemic has negatively impacted our day to day lives, and our physical, mental and emotional well being in many ways. From increased mental health issues, to sleep deprivation and more social isolation, many people have faced an uphill battle to stay positive and healthy this year.
But, it’s not all bad news here. The pandemic and the changes it has forced on to our society have led us to alter a lot about how we cook, eat, exercise, spend our free time, and maintain our homes. And a lot of this has had or could lead to many positive effects on our families, communities, and the planet as a whole.
This post explores how the COVID-19 pandemic has changed health habits among Americans, and what lessons from that we can and should carry with us long after the threat of the virus is gone.
Takeaway #1: We are drinking more during the pandemic, and it could be hurting us.
Across the board, Americans are consuming more alcohol this year. I have definitely been part of that statistic myself. Let’s just say weekly wine night has become a *daily weeknight occasion on many weeks.
According to the data, a majority of adults, especially millennials, say they are drinking the same amount or more than they were before the pandemic. Retail data from Nielsen shows that alcohol sales have surged nearly a quarter since March.
While there are a lot of factors at play here, the thing to keep in mind is that there is constantly new research coming out which highlights how alcohol can increase your risk for a number of diseases, including cancer. And combined with other health statistics that I’m going to get into, I think the major takeaway here is that, even during the pandemic, we need to be mindful of how much we are drinking, how often and why we are doing it.
Takeaway #2: Our sleeping habits have gotten significantly worse.
This is another takeaway that isn’t necessarily surprising to me, but one that we should most certainly keep in mind as we seek to move forward into a “new normal” at some point after the pandemic.
In one survey, reported by the American Journal of Managed Care, more than half of people said they are sleeping less than before the pandemic. And nearly 70% of people said their quality of sleep is worse now, even after lockdowns have been lifted in many states. This impact is being reported much more among younger generations, including millennials, than among older ones.
In another major global survey conducted this year by Sleep Cycle, 37% of people across age groups and continents said it was taking them longer to fall asleep at night. That’s no surprise considering most people also reported they were consuming more news and more technology than usual. Again, the youngest age group in the survey reported having the hardest time falling asleep and the worst sleep quality.
Sure, an easy fix to this one may seem like limiting screen time, but that’s obviously not a viable option for many people now who have no choice but to do more work, schooling and socializing remotely on the computer.
Takeaway #3: We’re way more time on our screens.
And here’s the hard numbers: according to data, more than half of Americans admit they have been spending more time on their phones, watching TV, or in front of their computer, since the pandemic began.
This has led to increased reporting of mental health issues, as well as more concern and doctor visits over dry eyes. Clearly, the effects here are both physical and mental. And while we can’t necessarily limit all of our screen time right now, it’s worth looking at how we can be more mindful about it, and taking advantages of the opportunities we do have to actually unplug.
Takeaway #4: Our mental health has suffered during the pandemic.
Not a hard one to guess, but one of the most concerning takeaways of all.
A study conducted in July found that 53% of U.S. adults say their mental health has been negatively impacted by COVID-19, citing increased worry and stress. They say this has manifested itself through difficulty sleeping (as mentioned above), appetite changes, increased alcohol consumption or substance abuse, and worsening chronic conditions.
According to the same Sleep Cycle study I mentioned earlier, teenagers and young adults are again the ones feeling some of the biggest impacts, reporting some of the highest rates of depression and anxiety, citing loneliness and technology overload after so many months spent at home and going to school/work remotely.
One bright side to this takeaway, is that data shows more people are taking action to improve their mental health during this time. According to data, first-time downloads of some of the biggest mental wellness apps in the country hit 4 Million earlier this year, which is nearly a 30% increase from before the pandemic started. This last quarter, mental health firms raised 60% more money than the previous one.
Even when the pandemic ends, two things will still be true: life will look different, and there will continue to be a myriad of legitimate concerns to worry about for people from all walks of life. If this pandemic can inspire some people to take their mental health more seriously, then maybe we can start having more conversations and taking steps forward to better our mental health understanding and resources for our society at large.
Takeaway #5: We are cooking and eat at home more, and focusing more on our health in the kitchen.
Some of the most interesting changes I’ve come across are happening in kitchens across the country. These are also some of the changes that give me the most optimism for how our long term habits can evolve for the better on the other side of this pandemic.
Because of national and local mandates, we’re eating at home a lot more, whether we’re cooking or ordering take-out. And that’s affecting when, what and how we eat. One survey found that 40% of adults are snacking more than before the pandemic. And in a Nutrisystem survey nearly half of the respondents said their eating schedules have become increasingly inconsistent. Furthermore, the survey found that three-quarters of Americans have gained weight during the pandemic.
But, there’s a silver lining to all of this. That same survey found that 64% of people said they had more of a desire to eat healthier in the last several months. Part of that is likely because of all the cooking at home we’re having to do. According to the Food Industry Association, 40% of Americans say they are now cooking more. On top of that, sales of kitchen appliances and gadgets, like pasta makers and bread machines have seen a surge in recent months.
One big reason I personally love cooking is because of the control that it gives me over what foods I’m consuming, and that usually means I’m eating dishes and ingredients that are healthier than what I’m going to get in a restaurant. It would seem this sentiment is wearing off on more and more people because of the pandemic.
Takeaway #6: Our exercise habits are changing, and that could be a really good thing.
The pandemic kept gyms and fitness studios closed for months, and even know, the ones that are open have massive safety restrictions in place.
Data found that people, even those who were regularly active, were exercising less in the early months of the pandemic, be that due to stress, the disruption in daily life, etc. And that makes sense. The good news is that the statistics suggest that trend hasn’t carried through as the year has gone on.
In fact, demand is exploding for virtual online workout classes and at-home exercise equipment. Peloton’s stock alone is telling. A major study by Mindbody provides some steady numbers to illustrate all this. The company found that 73% of consumers they surveyed are using online workout videos, a 56% jump from last year. And 85% are using livestream classes, a 78% jump from last year.
Furthermore, Mindbody found that nearly half of consumers plan to make virtual workout classes part of their routine even after the pandemic ends. Another recent survey found that almost 60% of Americans say they don’t plan to renew their gym membership after the pandemic.
What excites me about these trends, is that it shows that ideas about what fitness is, and what you need to access it are changing. People who were excluded from gyms and boutique fitness studios because of time, commuting, family obligations, COST, don’t face the same barriers when it comes to working out at home, on your own time. Hopefully, moving past some of those hinderances will mean more people are able to maintain fitness as part of their health and wellness routine.
Takeaway #7: We’re spending more on health and wellness.
More evidence that the pandemic has caused us to look more seriously at our well-being on multiple levels.
The Global Wellness Institute did a worldwide survey and found that more than 60% of people said they value their health and wellness more now than they ever did before.
On top of that, data from this year has show an increase in consumer spending and investment in the health and wellness industry, already valued at more than $4 trillion globally.
Sales of vitamins and supplement products, especially those targeting immune function, are reportedly expected to increase by $1.5 billion this year.
On top of that, there is also a marked rise in spending on home wellness products like air purification systems, uv treatments, antiviral surfaces, sanitizers, etc.
Travel and tourism data also suggests a rise in wellness focused travel, including trips to more remote places and nature focused destinations.
Takeaway #8: We’re spending more time outside.
With the only indoor to fun to be had relegated to your own home, it makes sense that tons of people have been increasing finding solace outside.
Reports show that sales at outdoor retailers around the country are up almost across the board this year, with everything from running shoes to kayaks seeing a surge in demand.
Specifically, sales of bikes were up 63% this summer compared to last year. Following closely behind them, paddle sport product sales spiked 56%. Golf equipment sales have soared 51%, and camping gear has seen a 31% jump in sales this summer.
Even if your outdoor recreation consists of walking the neighborhood, here’s hoping this new trend stays with us long beyond the pandemic.
Takeaway #9: We’re thinking more about sustainability overall.
I don’t think you can talk about a pandemic like this without talking about sustainability. For one, there is so much data and research showing the links between COVID-19 and climate change. Secondly, as people are having to rethink how they live their daily lives, our on-the-go, single use, disposable waste culture has been put on a pause, and fortunately, it seems people are taking notice.
A new study by the company Genomatica, found that 85% of Americans are thinking about sustainability more since the start of the pandemic. More than half have noticed less traffic and cleaner air (here’s the data to back that up). Furthermore, more than half of Americans say they want the government and private companies to prioritize sustainability, even while dealing with other issues (like, say, this pandemic).
Another study found that more than half of consumers are buying more organic products than they did before the pandemic, and about 70% are looking to buy more eco-friendly products.
Where do we go from here?
We don’t know when this pandemic will necessarily be over, or what things will look like when that time comes. But we still have a lot of choices we can make about what we want our lives to be like in the meantime, and what kind of habits we are setting ourselves up for in the future.
Yes, it’s clear that the pandemic, and the realities of working remotely, is taking a toll on our health in terms of increased stress and worry, increased drinking as a coping mechanism, and deteriorating sleep overall.
But, the pandemic has also caused so many people to think more seriously about their health, through their diets, exercise and time spent outdoors, and more consideration of mental health resources.
In other words, a lot of people are taking a more wholistic approach to their well-being right now. If we can keep that trend going, and expand it on a larger scale, then I think there’s reason to have a lot of hope for what life will look like Post COVID-19.