COVID-19: Why we need exercise now more than ever

9 tips to get your workout in amid physical distancing, social isolation

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      We all know how important regular physical activity is at the best of times. In the era of the novel coronavirus, it’s even more crucial.

      If you’ve found yourself sucked into the vortex of so many heartbreaking and just plain terrifying stories from every corner of the map, unable to sleep, pouring too many Quarantinis and/or contemplating day drinking, and generally feeling paralyzed by the end of the world as we know it, it’s time to start (or resume) working out.

      Keep in mind some of the benefits of fitness on your physical health in general: better cardiovascular function and reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes, blood pressure, stroke, and cancer.

      The positive effects are way more extensive than that, and we’re talking about the ones that can help offset the anxiety people are experiencing these days.

      Exercise reduces stress, improves sleep, and increases sex drive.

      It strengthens immunity. 

      It boosts energy level, concentration, focus, and productivity.

      It helps improve brain function and memory—both of which can take a hit with excessive worry and lack of sleep.

      Mentally and emotionally, the benefits are ginormous. Whether it’s walking, swinging kettlebells, amping up your asanas, or however else you like to move your body, exercise mitigates symptoms of depression and anxiety. It lifts your mood, enhancing feelings of happiness and calm.

      It can also help you tune out the world in a way that few other activities can. Get your sweat on and you’ll forget about life for a while.

      But with stricter rules around physical distancing coming into play, and with gyms, pools, basketball courts closed, it’s more challenging to get your workout in. Time to get creative and also back to basics.

      Here are some ways how:

      - Outside is still open. Thanks to those who don’t understand the concept of keeping apart even while outdoors, more and more of our beautiful public parks and trails are closed for the time-being. But there are still lots of places to go for a walk, run, bike ride, or hike. Remember, as Dr. Bonnie Henry said in her March 23 briefing, go with your immediate family only and keep your distance from others.

      - Grab a pal. If it seems way too boring to go for a walk solo, go with a friend--virtually. Leave home at the same time, connect via FaceTime, and catch up while satisfying your Fitbit.

      - Go online. It’s no surprise that gyms, yoga studios, celebrity trainers, and everyone else who makes a living off fitness and exercise are offering classes on their website, Instagram account, YouTube channel, or other social media platform; some are free, some are not. There’s every possible format at your fingertips.

      - Make your living room your home gym. Remember you don’t need a lot of space to exercise at home. Think of how little room you actually take up in a group fitness class. You might need to drag some furniture around, or maybe not. Even in small spaces, a little patch of living room floor, rec room, carport, deck, can be used a few times a week as your studio.

      - To get this to really work, play the part. Don’t shuffle from your newly formed work-at-home space to your in-home gym in the same clothes. Put on workout gear, complete with runners. Psych yourself up mentally with music that revs you up.

      - DIY dumbbells. If you don’t have equipment at home, go the old-fashioned route and use soup cans for free weights; nylons for resistance bands; and dish cloths for gliding discs.

      - Safety first! Do a proper warmup. One o the easiest ways to get hurt is to launch into a run, or start doing squats, lunges, jumping jacks or any other vigorous or intense movement when our body is cold. Your warmup should last five to 10 minutes.  

      Have a cooldown and stretch afterward. Just like you can’t go from zero to 60, you don’t want to stop exercising abruptly. A cooldown lasting about five minutes followed by a full-body stretch helps bring the heart rate down gradually and release lactic acid. This will help reduce muscle soreness the next day. Stretching also helps the muscles recover and improves flexibility and range of motion.

      Be sure to eat a light meal or snack one hour before exercising, and be well hydrated before, during, and after.

      - Seniors need to keep moving, too. Older people in apartment or condos, where possible, can walk the hallways and incorporate chair exercises. Even getting up and down from a seated position several times a day helps with mobility.

      - Keep a routine. Instead of saying something vague like “I’ll work out today”, write down in  your calendar a specific time and duration for exercise several times a week. Treat those entries like you would an appointment with a medical specialist or divorce lawyer, i.e., something that simply cannot be cancelled or rescheduled.  

      - Break it up. The Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines suggest at least 150 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise weekly. If you opt to do 30 minutes five times a week, remember you can break up that 30-minute segment into three 10-minute slots. They still count, and they’re just as good for you as doing it all at once.

      Who knows? Get into the habit of working out amid the coronavirus pandemic and you just might keep it whenever the world gets more normal.  

      Gail Johnson is a certified fitness instructor. Follow her on Instagram @gailjohnsonvancouver and Twitter @GailJohnsonVan