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One of the most frequent complaints during what has now become a 15-month COVID-19 shutdown is that people were lulled into sedentary lifestyles, rarely going out and even exercising more infrequently.
Naturally, there’s a Yang to the Yin. With less activity came more pounds. All of a sudden, COVID-19 became “the COVID 19,” as in pounds. And for some it was even more than 19.
Things may be loosening up in terms of the relaxation of social protocols and the lifting of mask mandates. But for many, the damage has been done.
However, out of this pandemic shutdown came a fair number of success stories. Gyms may have been locked down for most of last year, but Americans who wanted — or needed — to stay in shape found other ways to condition their bodies.
During the pandemic Americans spent heavily across the board, from $3,000 cardio machines to $20 yoga mats. They also used their legs, whether walking, running or hiking. Yellowstone National Park recorded its busiest September and October on record last year, and conscientious fitness advocates embraced other outdoor activities to escape the boredom of sitting around the house.
That national trend carried over locally, too. Peabody’s Rich Lynch bought himself a Peloton exercise bike, and now he swears by them.
In the last year, Lynch, a software engineer whose office is in Woburn, was — like a lot of people — relegated to working remotely when the pandemic shutdown began.
“In the beginning, we ate too much, drank too much, couldn’t go to the gym, stuff like that. So I packed on the weight. But last June, something clicked in … I was going back and forth about getting a Peloton, and finally went through with it. Now, I love it.”
He loves it so much that he’s doing a virtual cross-country bike tour from San Francisco to Washington.
“Right now, according to the bike, I’m in Colorado,” he said.
Ed McNeil has been coaching hockey and soccer all his life. Included in that was a 10-plus-year stint as the English High girls soccer coach. Soccer is a sport that demands physical endurance, and McNeil has never really had a weight problem to speak of. But this winter, the pounds began sneaking up.
“I don’t usually put on weight,” he said. “And I eat everything. And I’m fortunate. I chase two boys (grandsons) around. I go to lacrosse games, soccer games, and I’m extremely active for my age. More active than a lot of my friends are. I am very fortunate.”
McNeil says he couldn’t imagine “sitting around and doing nothing.
“Even on days when I don’t do a walk, I do yard work, look after the kids.”
Laurie Wentzel-Ryan, a teacher at Lynn Classical, found herself over the course of the shutdown a little heavier than she wanted to be.
“By August of last year, I’d put on about 25 to 30 pounds,” she said. “I don’t know what, exactly, made me commit to (losing weight). I just felt it was time. I went with MyFitnessPal (a phone/computer app). I’ve tried all the diets, but this one just worked. I was very diligent about not going over the number of calories allotted.”
Although she does exercise, her focus is more on food — and of not depriving herself.
“I allowed myself some cake on my birthday,” she said. “But I planned for it by having less (to eat) the day before and the day after.”
Nestled in the old Lydia Pinkham Building on Western Avenue in Lynn is Limitless Fitness, run by a trainer named Pam Sargent. She became an invaluable resource, her clients say, during the pandemic by being as available as she could be — and giving as much instruction as she could — to keep them in shape during the shutdown.
One of her clients is Tanya Phelps, a teacher at the Harrington School in Lynn.
“I have two children,” said Phelps, “and I put on weight during my pregnancies. Pam had a lot of clients who were working out with her, and who were teachers at my school. I was talking about it with my husband, and he bought me a membership for Christmas 2019.”
She started going to the gym, and seeing success. Then came COVID, and Sargent had to shut down.
“But she pivoted,” said Phelps. “She started Zoom classes, so I’d get up in the morning and log onto those. Then, the weather broke, and we’d meet on Revere Beach every morning last summer. She kept us motivated.”
For Phelps, taking the first step proved to be the hardest — and that’s still the case.
“Sign up, and then show up,” she says. “There’s accountability. When you sign up, you’re making a promise to make yourself a priority. We often put ourselves last.”
Marblehead native Kait Taylor is the co-founder of Wishroute, a strictly-online, all-purpose service that sees accountability as a big factor in maintaining healthy habits in times such as last year’s pandemic.
“The biggest difficulty for me was sitting at home, having lots of food around, and emotional snacking,” she said. “But I was able to turn things around and have healthy food in the refrigerator.”
Of course, she said, she knew that she had the power not to sit around all day, too.
“You’ve got to move,” she said. “I’d get up and start walking around the neighborhood. Now, I work out consistently and work with a nutritionist to know what to eat.”
Taylor actually feels it is easier to eat healthily when at home, as opposed to being out and around.
“When you’re home,” she said, “it’s easier to control what you eat.”
Taylor advises those who wish to change their habits to “focus on that thing that challenges you and nail it down. Focus on healthy habits, one at a time, and make good things happen for yourself. If you gained weight, find the ‘why’ behind it, and change it.”