How This Philly Occupational Therapist Is Pursuing Wellness While Social Distancing

For Fitler Square resident Joelle Atkinson, a week of social distancing meant lots of at-home workouts, home-cooked meals, and walks outside.

social distancing diary

See how Fitler Square resident Joelle Atkinson spent the week pursuing fitness and wellness in her social distancing diary. / Photograph courtesy of Joelle Atkinson.

Welcome to Sweat Diaries, Be Well Philly’s look at the time, energy, and money people invest in pursuit of a healthy lifestyle in Philly. For each Sweat Diary, we ask one area resident to spend a week tracking everything they eat, all the exercise they get, and the money they spend on both. Want to submit a Sweat Diary? Email

Who I am: Joelle Atkinson (@jea715), 30

Where I live: Fitler Square

What I do: I’m an occupational therapist who is currently (and conveniently) between two contracts right now, and therefore, is in self-isolation. I also work part-time remotely for my family’s small business — a chain of Hallmark stores in southern NJ — doing their social media and marketing.

What role healthy living plays in my life: I’m a kidney and liver transplant recipient (I had my first kidney transplant at 18 months old and a kidney and liver transplant when I was nine years old), and have always had to try to fight to stay healthy. Fitness went from being difficult to achieve to allowing me to feel powerful, healthy, and strong, which is why I continue to pursue it today.

Health memberships (and what they cost): Currently, everything is on hold. Before all the chaos, I had just finished Rumble‘s 30-day challenge ($245 for 12 classes) and purchased Rachael’s Good Eat’s Guides to the Good Life ($29.99 with promotional code). In my “normal” fitness routine, I typically sprinkle in CorePower Yoga ($22 per class) and Barry’s ($30 per class), as well as swimming down at Kennedy Health & Fitness in Sewell ($12 per visit) with my mom.

Grocery haul for the week: $162.83 delivery from Amazon/Whole Foods


Atkinson starting an at-home workout from Rachael’s Good Eats Guide to the Good Life. / Photograph by Joelle Atkinson.

8:30 a.m. — Wake up to an alarm. My husband, Adam, and I recently returned from our spring break trip to visit friends in Atlanta and Nashville. We returned last Thursday, but have put ourselves into self-isolation to protect others in case we start to show symptoms of COVID-19. We were sitting at a bar on Lower Broadway in Nashville last Wednesday when it felt like the world fell apart. He’s a University of Pennsylvania graduate student and is on a second week of spring break so that the school can prepare for online classes.

8:45 a.m. — I slowly roll out of bed. I take my daily morning anti-rejection medications, which I take two times per day. These are what keep me from going into rejection, but also make me much more vulnerable to illnesses. I’ll have to take them forever and I’ll always be at a greater risk for infection, which is pretty frightening in a time like this.

9:15 a.m. — We make coffee and decide to turn on the news a bit for an update of what’s going on in the world. It’s been overwhelming to process all of the changes going on.

10:30 a.m. — Adam decides to go for a run and I decide to try a new in-home workout. I found a promo code for Rachael’s Good Eats Guide to the Good Life and am excited to start this program because it seems great for at-home workouts! I’ve always had a very hard time working out at home, but when I moved to Philadelphia in August from New York, I got a bench and weights so that I could try working out at home more often.

11:15 a.m. — Workout and small ab circuit done! I had no idea this home gym that I’ve created would come in so handy! I’m still feeling good and ready to keep going, so I ask Adam if he’s up for a few more miles.

12:15 p.m. — We go on a 2.5-mile run. Fun fact: Adam and I met on Tinder and bonded over a love of running. After a long hiatus, it’s about time I get back to it, and I’m surprised at how fast I am after a break. I love running because it makes me feel strong and like I can do anything!

12:45 p.m. — I’m still feeling so good after my run, I can’t stop smiling. Last night, I made Skinnytaste’s turkey meatball Stroganoff and after exerting all of that energy, I’m excited for the leftovers made with egg noodles.

1:30 p.m. — After lunch, I take a shower and then I do some work for my parent’s business. I’m currently working on their website and social media for their Hallmark stores. Every hour, rules and regulations are changing on what can stay open in New Jersey and it’s been really challenging to decide what to do for them.

4 p.m. — After a few hours of work, we decide to get outside for another walk. We need some things at Target, so Adam goes in to get some laundry detergent and tissues. It has also just come out that liquor and package stores will be closed and so we pick up a 12-pack of beer for the next few weeks ($28.96). I’ve been trying not to make contact with any surfaces anywhere but our home, in case I’m infected or someone else may be infected. I love Target and I’m so sad I can’t go inside!

5:30 p.m. — My family had sent us a brisket to make that will go bad soon, so I decide that is what’s for dinner. I sear it and put it in the Ninja Foodi pressure cooker (seriously, such a great invention and the best wedding gift ever!).

7 p.m. — Brisket and mashed potatoes for dinner. A comfort meal after a slightly unsettling day.

7:45 p.m. — After Adam does the dishes, we go for another walk outside. The streets are totally deserted but we are happy to get out and just have this extra time together.

8:30 p.m. — Push-up challenge! Our friends in New York are doing a challenge and we decided to join. It’s 50 push-ups every day. We are starting with two sets of 25 and then working up to do more in a row.

9 p.m. — My favorite show, Below Deck Sailing, is on and we relax. I take my second dose of anti-rejection meds for the day with some water. I love the drama of this show!

10:15 p.m. — What a day. We put on an episode of The Great British Baking Show (the ultimate comfort show) to fall asleep.

Daily total: $28.96


Atkinson’s homemade Indian chicken pulao. / Photograph by Joelle Atkinson.

8:17 a.m. — Wake up without an alarm. Even though I don’t have a physical workplace right now, I’m trying to keep a consistent wake up/workout/work schedule, which is tough, because I have a hard time keeping a schedule regularly.

9:30 a.m. — I make my way out of bed after taking my medicines and realize that it’s raining outside. Hopefully we can run later in the day together once the weather is a little better, I’ve really been enjoying it.

9:45 a.m. — We make coffee and decide to try making Birch Benders pancakes for the first time. Adam is surprised at how great they taste! I’ve been trying to eat less gluten and these pancakes are delicious and taste better than ones made with gluten!

11 a.m. — We clean up from breakfast and Adam decides he’s going to go for a run. I call my mom to chat for a few minutes before getting started on my workout. I’m doing the second day of Rachael’s Good Eats Guide to the Good Life workout and am ready to lift some heavy weights.

11:45 a.m. — Whew! All done. These circuits really make me break a sweat. Today was 45 seconds on for squats, push-ups, mountain climbers, and lunge twists. My legs are tired, but I’m happy I’m able to stay motivated today.

12:45 p.m. — I just went for a wonderful walk outside. Despite the cloudy skies, it’s great to get out and get some vitamin D. I’ve been trying to get at least two to three long walks or runs per day in. It helps me feel like I’m being active, but also keeps me from going totally stir crazy.

1 p.m. — I decide it’s time for lunch. Adam is having leftover brisket from yesterday while I’m having a simple salad. I really should eat more salad and when I made my grocery list this week, I thought if it’s the only thing I have in the house, I have to eat it!

1:30 p.m. — Earlier this week we decided that we would start cleaning and organizing our apartment. It’s much bigger than our small shoebox in New York City, so it seems like such a daunting task since we’ve accumulated so much over the last seven months. I really hate cleaning, so it’s good to have this time where I have to do it.

2:30 p.m. — I deep cleaned the kitchen and the bathroom while Adam organized our pantry and closets. It’s made me feel so incredibly grateful that we are able to have food in our pantry and clothes in our closets at a tough time like this.

2:45 p.m. — I sit down to do some work for my mom at my laptop as Adam is starting to prep some notes for his fourth quarter classes.

3:24 p.m. — I have some popcorn as a snack. After my transplant in April of 1999, I was self-isolating and social distancing for about five months. One of the things that my mom did to make it fun was have popcorn in the living room — something that was never allowed before that time. It definitely makes popcorn always feel like a special treat.

5 p.m. — Another walk for us, no run today. We are finally getting to explore new areas of our neighborhood. We’ve been so busy with work and school and other activities that it’s nice to finally have some down time to get to know our neighborhood.

6:30 p.m. — We’re back from our walk and I call my mom to work on some things for the stores. I’m about to make dinner in my Ninja Foodi again: Indian chicken pulao from Skinnytaste. It’s such an easy and delicious recipe and I love having leftovers for the next day.

7:30 p.m. — Push-up challenge done! Now time for some TV and relaxation.

9:30 p.m. — Getting extra water intake and taking my nightly medicines. Headed for a shower and bed soon.

10:30 p.m. — Lights out for me tonight!

Daily total: $0


Atkinson and her husband Adam stop for a photo op on their walk along the SRT. / Photograph by Joelle Atkinson.

7:57 a.m. — I wake up to my Fitbit buzzing with text messages. My friend Kristin’s baby shower is canceled and we are all, understandably, disappointed and upset. I roll over and try to shut my eyes for some more sleep.

9:15 a.m. — I didn’t sleep well last night and that extra hour was definitely needed. I think my body is starting to get a little bit stir crazy being inside of the apartment most of the day. Note to self: must keep moving the rest of the day.

9:30 a.m. — Coffee and morning pills time! I’ve recently been adding a vitamin C supplement as well to give a burst to my immune system. I should do it every day, but I’m usually just quickly grabbing pills as I run out of the door to work.

10:30 a.m. — Adam went for a run, but I’m having a hard time getting motivated to do my home workout today. One of the reasons that I love fitness classes is that all I have to do is walk in and someone will tell me what to do. I grab a handful of whole grain goldfish crackers and peruse the internet to find a different option for today’s workout.

12 p.m. — I just finished a Rumble workout that was streaming on Instagram while Adam did more work to prepare for school. I’m so thankful that gyms and trainers are putting in the effort to make fitness available while we are at home. I was desperately seeking motivation and I always find it at Rumble. I’m definitely feeling 1,000 times better after my workout. Adam and I decide to go on a two-mile run down by the Schuylkill River. We are very fortunate to have the views of the city and the city-long path so close to us. I feel so much better than I did this morning when I woke up.

1:15 p.m. — Home and time for some lunch leftovers! Remember the chicken pulao from last night? Yep, my lunch today!

2 p.m. — We finished and cleaned up after lunch and decided to each call our parents. Adam is checking in on his mom, dad, and brother in Connecticut, and I catch up with my parents in South Jersey. I’m really worried about everyone who I’m close to. This virus affects everyone in different ways and I’ve always been a worrier when it comes to health issues.

2:30 p.m. — We decide to go for a long walk. We walk the Schuylkill River Trail (which was so much busier than earlier!) and then sit on a blanket right by Boathouse Row. I’m a little bit nervous about being around all of the people, but being outside is so wonderful. We decide to read and relax before heading back through the city, past the Art Museum, and along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. I feel like this is really the first opportunity that I’ve really gotten to see and enjoy the city and can truly appreciate its beauty. It turns out to be a perfect afternoon!

6:15 p.m. — I relax for a few minutes after getting back from our long walk — we’ve had a lot of movement today! Adam and I decide it’s taco night, so we make our own taco seasoning and Skinnytaste’s Mexican brown rice. It’s so nice to cook together in our kitchen. I add shredded cabbage to my ground beef to give it more quantity, and it helps me get in more vegetables for the day!

8 p.m. — Adam and I settle in to watch Survivor. It’s an all-winners season and it’s been so great!

9 p.m. — Push-up challenge time! We were able to do 30 push-ups at once and 20 in the other video. We are getting stronger and feeling better about it.

10 p.m. — Time for night time medications and bed. Nearly 20,000 steps today has made me tired!

Daily total: $0


Atkinson and her mom complete a live-streamed workout together via FaceTime. / Photograph by Joelle Atkinson.

8:45 a.m. — Rise and shine for me! Time for morning medications and coffee.

9 a.m. — Adam does some work for school and I am catching up on some emails that I need to return. I’ve been in contact with my hepatology transplant doctors at Jefferson about what to do during the COVID-19 outbreak. No one really knows how this may affect transplant recipients, so I’ll just continue to isolate myself and send Adam out for grocery runs when needed.

10:15 a.m. — Adam and I make pancakes again and they were delicious! I love cooking with him.

11 a.m. — I catch up with some friends via text message and Instagram while Adam is running. Just because distance is keeping from celebrating baby showers, birthdays, and weddings does not mean that we can’t stay in touch.

12 p.m. — An early lunch, but I’m planning on doing another Rumble Instagram Live workout with my friend, Kim, via phone and want to make sure I have the energy! Leftover tacos for the win. We tried new crunchy taco shells last night and they were yummy — thankfully we still have a few left over!

1 p.m. — Rumble time!!! I love that the workouts that I love are streaming online. It’s not the same as in-studio, but chatting with my friends before and after and doing it together makes me feel not so alone.

1:45 p.m. — Wow, that was great sweat session. Combat burpees, jab crosses, and lots of high knees! Burpees are my favorite exercise (yes, I’m crazy) and I love doing them at Rumble. It makes me feel so strong and I get so excited to do them during every Rumble round!

2 p.m. — I do some work for my mom’s business for a few hours. They’ve decided to close their stores for a few weeks and it was a tough decision. I’m spending some time updating the website and social media channels to announce the closure. It was hard to do, but necessary for the safety of their employees and customers.

4:30 p.m. — All done with working and now onto another task that I’ve been wanting to do for awhile: share our wedding photos! We’ve been so busy over the last eight months that we haven’t had time to share all of the gorgeous photos from our most favorite day. It was so uplifting to look back on how perfect the whole wedding season was for us!

5:30 p.m. — My mom and I are doing a Piyo workout via Facebook Live. I know she had to make some tough decisions today, so I reached out to one of our friends, Denise Burgese, that teaches Piyo at local studios in South Jersey and she decided to do a live workout for her community! It looks like there are about 30 people joining the live video and Denise just always knows how to brighten up my day.

6:30 p.m. — That workout was amazing. It’s definitely harder than I remember (so many planks!) but Denise is just so lovely that it was a great way to end a day. I finished up my workout and my husband has made dinner, yay! He made Skinnytaste’s jambalaya and it is going to be delicious.

7:30 p.m. — Dinner was so yummy, and I love that it was ready when I was done working out. I’m lucky to have such a great partner in crime. I decide I’m getting a little stir crazy so Adam and I go out for a walk. We walk from our apartment down through Rittenhouse and it is a ghost town. It’s quite eerie and unsettling how much has changed just within the last week.

9 p.m. — Home and settled in to watch some TV. I take my nighttime medicines and then we get ready for the Top Chef All-Stars premiere. I’ve been waiting about a year for the new season and I’m so excited!

11:30 p.m. — Bed time for us! I set up the coffee for the next morning and we get ready to sleep. I’m exhausted and am ready for some shut-eye.

Daily total: $0


Atkinson enjoying a day at the shore. / Photograph courtesy of Joelle Atkinson.

8:15 a.m. — Good morning, sunshine! It’s Friday and I’m getting a (relatively) early start today. I take my medicines and I’m logging onto my computer to do a teletherapy webinar. Many of the schools and early intervention agencies have moved to a teletherapy model for the time-being. It’s definitely different than hands-on therapy, but right now it’s the only option for school occupational therapists in most places. I sip on my coffee as the webinar plays.

10 a.m. — Time for my morning workout! I have a clementine before I’ve decided to do the Guide to the Good Life and Rumble’s 45-minute Instagram Live workout this morning!

11:15 a.m. — Wow, that was awesome! The strength workout had so many push-ups and Rumble’s workout was amazing today, with lots of jab-cross and power shot combos.

12 p.m. — I just went for a walk outside and down a few blocks. It is absolutely beautiful outside today and I honestly don’t want to go back inside. I go back in after a half hour to make lunch: leftover taco components that I turned into a small burrito bowl. It’s very filling and I think I’m ready to get out of the city for a bit.

1:30 p.m. — Adam and I decide we are going to take a ride to the shore. It is a gorgeous day, so we get ready to go. We hop in the car and take the hour drive down to Ocean City, NJ. I grew up there over the summers and we are so looking forward to getting some salt air and sunshine. (Editor’s Note: New Jersey officials have asked non-residents to avoid the Shore for the time being.)

3 p.m. — Wow, it is so windy here, but also so nice to get some sunshine. There are definitely more people than I expected on the boardwalk, but it’s just so nice to see the blue skies and get away from the buildings. We walk the boardwalk for awhile and decide to sit on a towel-covered bench and read.

4:45 p.m. — Adam and I are hungry and are ready for an early dinner. We are trying to find ways to continue to support our favorite businesses, so we pick up my favorite pizza from Piccini in Ocean City. We decide to take it home and reheat it on our pizza stone. We order the Pomodoro Romano pizza with mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses, prosciutto, tomatoes, and caramelized onions. Adam gets penne alla vodka and we also share some breadsticks. It tastes like summer and my heart is so happy ($41.16).

7:30 p.m. — Dinner was really delicious and I have a full tummy and a happy heart after this afternoon with plenty of leftovers for lunch tomorrow.

8:30 p.m.Shark Tank and push-up challenge time! Feeling a little bit dehydrated now, so I’ll get some extra water intake this evening. I hope my arms can handle 50 push-ups tonight after all of my workouts this week.

9 p.m. — Push-ups are done and I take my nighttime medicines. It is finally time to totally relax. This week was emotionally and mentally exhausting, but I am so lucky that I am not alone in this social isolation and distancing period.

10:45 p.m. — We just finished the first season finale of Succession and now it’s time for bed. I’m going into this weekend with a happy and grateful heart.

Daily total: $41.16

Weekly totals

Money spent: $70.12
Workouts completed: Eight (there’s not much else to do!)
Walks/runs outside: 10

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