While the COVID-19 pandemic has caused gyms and fitness centers to close in many locations, this doesn’t mean we can’t remain fit and strong.
In fact, maintaining an active lifestyle is an important part of combating this illness, said Angela Flatsoussis, a NASM-certified personal trainer and owner of ABF Athletics in Chicago.
“Physical activity can help lower stress and anxiety levels, boost your immune system, and keep off any unwanted pandemic pounds,” she said.
“This time is not an excuse to neglect your body,” she added. “Within only a few weeks your strength and muscle mass can diminish, making it that much harder to resume your normal routine after the pandemic.”
But what can you do to remain active when you don’t have access to the equipment that you would normally use? Turns out there’s a lot — once you start thinking outside the big-box gym.
If you can manage it, get outside and move in some way, whether that’s a more traditional type of exercise — like running, biking, or walking — or simply playing with your kids by tossing around a Frisbee.
Jeanette Gustat, PhD, MPH, department of epidemiology, prevention research center at Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, said outdoor exercise has many benefits during a time when we may be bored and anxious due to physical distancing.
Outdoor exercise encourages activity with more space, it allows us to have a more varied experience than being indoors all the time, and it can reduce stress, according to Gustat.
If you already do activities like walking, running, or biking, then you can simply continue to do these in your local neighborhood.
However, even if you don’t normally exercise, Gustat said it’s important to keep moving.
Don’t think of it as “exercise,” which tends to make it sound like a chore. Think of it in terms of “being active” or “physical activity,” she said.
Getting out and playing in the yard with your kids or taking a walk around the block are easy ways to get more movement in your life, said Gustat.
When you don’t have access to your usual weights and machines, Flatsoussis suggests finding substitutes around your home to do resistance training.
To replicate the traditional barbell squat, she suggests using a broomstick while you perform squats.
“Simply place the broomstick on the upper part of the back and hold onto it with your hands,” she explained.
Squats are a great compound movement that will work your back, core, legs, and glutes, according to Flatsoussis.
In lieu of box jumps, she suggests using your stairs.
“Start at your landing and jump up to the first stair. Step down and repeat,” she said.
This exercise will work your legs and glutes as well as provide you with some cardio.
Instead of dumbbells, try using soup cans for bent-over rows. Rows help strengthen the back and improve one’s posture, she said.
In place of the deadlift — which helps strengthen your legs, back, and core — she suggests grabbing a pair of gallon milk or water jugs.
“Set one on each side of your feet, bend at the knees and hips, keeping the back flat and eyes up, pick up each one of your gallons by the handle and stand up,” she said.
Finally, for Russian twists, which strengthen your core and obliques, she suggests using a bag of rice or beans.
“Challenge your core and obliques by leaning back, with a flat back, and twisting your bag side to side,” she said.
You can also simply use your own body weight, according to Gustat. “Situps, pushups, pullups, squats — anything with resistance will work.”
While we might not think of cleaning or home maintenance as being exercise, Gustat said, “Any movement counts and has health benefits.”
This includes activities like mopping your floors or changing out the batteries in your smoke detectors.
“Think of moving more and sitting less,” she said. “Strive to get at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity every week. That’s 30 minutes, 5 days a week.”
Moderate activity is any type of activity that gets your heart beating faster, according to Gustat.
Even if you don’t work the full 150 minutes, Gustat said it still helps. “Any amount of activity is beneficial.”
In addition, benefits are still gained even if the minutes are spread out over a couple of days.
Both of our experts agreed: The best thing you can do while you’re stuck at home during the pandemic is simply to keep moving.
Physical activity will reduce your stress and anxiety, boost your immune system, and keep you strong and healthy.
Activity can be in the form of traditional exercise, if you have the equipment, but any type or amount of movement is going to be beneficial.