In the early days of the pandemic, as millions of us in the Northeast were ordered to ‘shelter in place,’ our normal exercise routines – along with every other routine – went out the window. With schools, offices, gyms and workout studios locked up tight, movement of any kind was in short supply. For some, it still is. With the virus still not under control, especially in the South and the West, an even more sedentary life has become, all too often, the new normal.
No matter what long-term changes COVID-19 may bring about in this country, one thing is for sure: it’s imperative that you keep your body moving and stay fit throughout the pandemic and beyond. Not doing so comes at too high a price, namely, increased cancer risk, depression, reduced cognitive ability, prediabetic blood sugar levels (even if you’re at a healthy weight), poor sleep, and more. And the weaker your body is, the easier it may be for the virus to get a foothold inside it, and the worse the outcomes if you do get sick.
So, here are a few thoughts on how to put movement front and center, no matter long we’re stuck on this COVID-19 ride:
Move movement up higher on the to-do list.
For those with families, the pandemic brought with it a whole lot of togetherness, and for those on their own, a whole lot of alone time – in either case, considerably more than we were used to. Movement may have taken a back seat to Zoom calls, but I urge you to bump it up a few pegs on your daily to-do list. Moving more will help you – and the entire family – take the edge off mental and emotional stress; prevent weight gain; improve sleep and boost the strength of your immune system – all of which will help your body and mind better cope during these tumultuous times. Recent studies indicate that even a single workout can have a positive impact on immunity. Regular sessions will have an even bigger effect, adding years to your life, in part by protecting the length of your telomeres, the end-caps on your DNA which shorten with age.
No need to sprint.
Your body is a brilliantly designed machine, built to walk, run, twist, jump, lunge, push, pull and hoist. But the truism is true: move it or lose it. Movement keeps joints lubricated, tendons supple and bones and muscles moving together freely, without restriction. And just in case you needed one more reason to get out of your desk chair: all that movement throughout the day enables muscle tissue to produce proteins called myokines which play an important role in preventing some of the inflammation that COVID-19 seems to thrive on.
To keep all your parts working well, a modest amount of movement done on the regular is all you need. You don’t have to train for the marathon every day to enjoy health benefits, unless of course you are a marathon runner in which case, have at it. In fact, if you’re just getting into the movement groove, take it slow. Set realistic daily or weekly goals, building intensity and endurance over time, to avoid over-training which can have a negative impact on the immune system. It’s important to avoid injury, and if you’re not feeling well, give your body a day off.
Grab multiple movement moments.
Whether you live in a small city apartment or a sprawling suburban manse, whether you’re returning to the office on an abbreviated schedule, or you’re not, you don’t need a lot of floorspace to get moving, nor big blocks of time.
If you’re working from home, in between all those Zoom calls, take five-to-ten minutes every hour or so for a ‘movement moment’ to stay limber. Do some yoga stretches, planks, jumping jacks, burpees, running in place, stationary cycling, or whatever works for you. Another tip: add these movement moments to your online calendar so your computer will ping you when the time comes to get off your duff.
If you’re heading back to a more traditional workplace, take every opportunity to walk during the day, setting an hourly reminder on your phone or fitness tracker to get out of your chair and move. Walk to reception, the watercooler, the conference room that’s the furthest from your desk, once around the parking lot, down the street to grab lunch, whatever — just move and move often! As you do, almost immediately your body will respond in wonderful ways, pushing blood pressure, blood sugar and stress levels in a downward direction, which is just what the doctor ordered.
Find your happy (movement) place.
Though gyms and fitness studios are still closed in many states, that doesn’t mean you can’t simulate the movement experience at home. Most gyms have pivoted to virtual class offerings for the duration and a number of the big names in fitness, like Nike, Pelton, Reebok, Blink, Orangetheory, Les Mills, etc., are offering free classes of every stripe to anyone during the pandemic, so movement options are virtually limitless. Got kids who are getting antsy? YouTube is well supplied with family-oriented movement sessions to try out.
If classes aren’t your thing, then heading outside for a walk or bike ride will do the trick — just be sure to maintain appropriate distance and wear a mask. Got errands to do? Do as many as possible on foot – and keep your shopping local to boot. If you have a dog, take them for an extra walk each day, whether they ‘need’ one or not. Don’t own a pup? See if your neighbor would be open to having you walk theirs. Got stairs at your place? Climb them a few times a day to get your heart rate up.
Or, if freestyling is your thing, then crank up your best playlists and dance around the living room. Play just 4 or 5 songs and you’ll be moving for about 10-to-15 minutes. Add another session or two and you’ll easily hit the recommended daily 30 – 45 minute mark – and have lots of fun along the way. For a longer session, tune into any one of the numerous virtual dance parties happening virtually ‘round the clock online, many with big name DJ’s spinning their favorites (free of charge).
Weave more movement into your day.
The goal is to move more throughout the day, so that even if you can’t quite fit in a longer workout or class, you can still weave in enough daily movement moments to counteract most or all of the health costs of sedentary living. Look at every day as filled with opportunities to slip in a few micro-sessions. Here are some ways to do it:
- If it looks like you may be mostly home-based in the months to come, consider purchasing a piece or two of basic fitness equipment that will keep you moving for work-out sessions, short or long. Try a low-tech stationary bike or a bike ‘trainer’ which converts your road bike into a stationary bike (and back) in seconds; a small, fold-away treadmill or stair-stepper; slide-board or slide disks; standing boxing trainer, etc.
- Not commuting to an office these days? Then bookend your day with a new routine: a quick walk in the morning and another at the end of the workday, to replace the movement you got when you were more out and about in the world.
- Do more quick errands on foot, particularly if you’re working from home. Walk to get your morning coffee or lunchtime meal from a local vendor and enjoy it on a park bench or your front stoop. As a bonus, you’ll get more fresh air, a bit of exercise, and some real live human interaction to boot!
- Make audio-only calls, Zoom calls and email management more active by doing them at a standing desk. Don’t have one in your home office? Then improvise with a sturdy box placed on a high counter or table with your laptop safely on top. Plug in a keyboard to go on the table below the laptop for more comfortable typing and better ergonomics.
- For audio-only calls, multi-task by moving while you talk, on a treadmill, stationary bike or mini-stair stepper, or just pace around the living room, or your neighborhood.
- Again, for audio-only calls, try pumping a little iron and tone up while you chat. A light set of hand-weights will do the trick, and your colleagues will be none the wiser!
- When you need to remain seated for longer periods, use an ergonomic chair that allows movement. You can use a large-size exercise ball (sized to allow you to keep your thighs parallel to the floor with feet flat) or try a high-end Swopper Motion Stool. Because you have to make constant micro-movements to maintain your posture, these seats engage your core, promote healthy circulation, and enliven your nervous system.
- If and when you’re not working at a job, inspire yourself to do chores around the house by thinking of them as another opportunity to add movement. Clean out the gutters; wash the car by hand; pull out weeds in the garden; rake leaves; cut the grass with a hand-powered mower; vacuum; clear out overstuffed garages and closets. If you’re feeling ambitious, repaint or re-stain any indoor/outdoor items that could stand a touch-up.
- If you like to unwind with a TV show or two in the evening, spend at least some of your viewing time off the couch and on the stationary bike, treadmill, or exercise mat. During commercial breaks, hit the floor and do a few planks or crunches.
- On those nights when ‘there’s nothing on,’ try a round or two of ‘exergames,’ on your PlayStation, Nintendo or EBox. Though they’re not a replacement for real outdoor activities, opting for a virtual activity – instead of going full couch potato – will deliver physical benefits and they’re a great way to get the family off the couch.
Whatever you do, and however you do it, keep moving, as much as you can – don’t take pandemic living sitting down!