Prairie Fare: Don’t let COVID-19 make you a couch potato

This roasted bell pepper hummus is nutrient-rich and lower in calories. NDSU photo

“Wow, I’ve counted 21 people,” my husband noted as we walked around our neighborhood.

During the last several weeks, I had noticed only a few people out walking.

Most people have been confined to their homes due to the combination of cold weather and the social distancing that is helping ease the spread of COVID-19.

“I didn’t realize so many people have dogs,” I replied. “That’s the 10th dog I have seen.”

The dogs looked very happy as they trotted alongside their humans.


As we walked, we did the social distancing “dance.” Every time someone approached on the sidewalk where we were walking, we crossed the street to another sidewalk.

I felt a bit antisocial in the process. However, most nodded or waved.

We had to make some minor leaps over puddles in the sidewalk as a result of melting snow. I made a mental note to wear rubber boots the next time.

Sometimes the social distancing process meant that we stepped into the soggy sod of the boulevard to maintain a minimum of a 6-foot distance.

With the cancellation of nearly every evening event, many people have become more sedentary. Some of my friends have joked they are wearing pants with elastic waistbands, binge-watching movies and eating more.

I work all day, sitting at a computer, then I “relax” at night by sitting in an easy chair or lying on the couch watching TV or movies. We drive around the city for a little amusement because most retail stores and restaurants are closed except for pickup or delivery.

Lack of movement is not good for anyone’s health. In fact, we should be aiming for 150 minutes per week of moderate to vigorous physical activity.

Physical activity researchers have studied the relationship between sitting and various health conditions. U.S. researchers reported that people who spent more than 23 hours per week in a combination of TV time and vehicle time had a 64% greater risk of dying from heart disease.


We are all aware of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) resources related to COVID-19. The website also provides a broad array of disease-prevention recommendations, including physical activity recommendations.

The more I studied the CDC physical activity information, the more I realized that I need to be moving more.

I probably need to set a timer to remind me to take a walking or standing break every hour. I also could stand, walk in place or stretch during phone calls and training sessions.

According to the CDC, getting 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on most days of the week could prevent one in 10 premature deaths, one in eight cases of breast cancer and one in eight cases of colorectal cancer.

Further, getting the recommended physical activity could prevent one out of 12 cases of diabetes and one out of 15 cases of heart disease, according to the CDC.

All the disruptions in our lives due to the pandemic probably are taking a toll on the mental health of some kids and adults. Physical activity improves mental health and ability to think. Physical activity also lowers our risk of stroke and high blood pressure and prevents weight gain.

Getting physical activity isn’t expensive. Turn on some music and dance, try doing yoga to YouTube, rediscover old exercise DVDs, or dust off the treadmill, ski machine or other exercise equipment you might have purchased with good intentions.

As we watch the news or scroll through Facebook or websites with a snack at hand, remember to keep your food choices nutrient-rich and lower in calories. Veggies with hummus dip made from chickpeas fill that bill.


Here’s a delicious dip that Melissa, one of my spring interns, prepared and photographed in the comfort of her apartment. We could not be in the same space due to social distancing. She and her roommate gave the recipe rave reviews. I will trust their judgment.

Roasted Bell Pepper Hummus

2 whole red bell peppers

1/4 cup tahini (sesame seed paste)

1/4 cup lemon juice

2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1 garlic clove, minced

1/2 tsp. cumin


Pinch of cayenne pepper

Salt to taste

1 (15-ounce) can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed

Vegetables, crackers to dip

Wash and cut peppers into quarters; scrape out the insides. Move oven rack directly under broiler. Set peppers skin side up on baking sheet; place baking sheet in oven on top rack. Set oven to broil and broil peppers for five to 10 minutes, until skin is charred. Let peppers cool. Remove charred skin and chop, or leave skin on and chop.

Blend tahini and lemon juice for one minute; scrape sides of container and blend for additional 30 seconds. Add olive oil, garlic, cumin and salt; blend for 30 seconds, scrape sides of container and blend for another 30 seconds. Drain and rinse can of chickpeas. Add half to blender and blend for one minute. Scrape sides of container and add other half of chickpeas. Blend until smooth, scraping sides of container. Add peppers and blend until smooth. Add water to thin, if desired.

Makes eight servings. Without added salt, each serving has 130 calories, 8 grams (g) fat, 4 g protein, 11 g carbohydrate, 3 g fiber and 90 milligrams sodium.

(Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension food and nutrition specialist and professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences. Follow her on Twitter @jgardenrobinson)

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