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Staying Physically Active in the Time of Coronavirus

Dr. Graham Colditz Headshot
Dr. Graham Colditz

Like most other aspects of daily life, exercise and physical activity routines have been turned on their heads.  Gyms are locked, exercise classes cancelled, and, depending where you live, even some parks and walking paths are closed.

It’s all for good reason, of course – working to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus.  At the same time, it’s a big change that can make it that much harder to fit in something that has a lot of important benefits.  On top of lowering the risk of multiple chronic diseases, physical activity also has great mental health benefits, giving a boost to mood and helping get us through these strange times that can be both stressful and tedious.

So, whether or not you exercised regularly before physical distancing recommendations took hold, there are a lot of reasons to try to fit some amount of regular physical activity into your new schedule.  Don’t worry so much about hitting recommended activity guidelines, it’s most important just to try to get some amount of movement in on most days. If having a specific goal motivates you, that’s wonderful. Standard recommendations are for 150 minutes or more of moderate-intensity activity each week.  If you’re new to exercise, start easy and build up slowly.  If you have any questions or concerns about your health, talk to a healthcare provider.

Try these handful of quick tips to keep you – and your family – moving.  Since everyone’s situation is different, they may work best as jumping off points to further explore what works best for you.  And most important of all, just try to have some fun with it.

Stream online videos. There is a huge variety of exercise videos available online these days. YouTube is an extremely popular source for free videos. Streaming services, Facebook, Instagram, and other social media can be as well.  Essentially, however you view online video, it’s likely those platforms will also have exercise videos to stream.  Type whatever you’re looking for into the search bar – like, “cardio workout,” “stretching,” “dance,” “yoga” – and see what comes up.  And don’t forget to search for your local gyms and instructors. Many are putting out their own at-home videos for clients, which can be a great way to stay connected with your local community.

Download an app.  Apps for smartphones and tablets can be a fantastic source of exercise content as well. They can range from straightforward apps that offer basic functions to those that have a lot of bells and whistles. Many apps are free, or available as free versions. Because there are so many different types of apps available, and of varying quality, it can be helpful to research app reviews to help guide your choices.

Stand up.  With most of us now spending a lot of time at home, it’s likely we’re also sitting a lot more than usual.  So, one easy way to add a bit of extra activity – and an energy boost – to the day is to simply add some regular standing breaks.  Set your phone to chime every 30 minutes to remind you to stand up for a quick 1 to 2-minute leg stretch.  Or stand up when you’re playing with your cat, watching a TV show, or working on your computer.  These are small things but, repeated, can add up to important amounts.

Get outside – if allowed and safe. Things are changing quickly, but even in areas under stay-at-home orders, outdoor activities are still largely allowed as long as you keep to physical distancing guidelines and any other restrictions.  This means activities like walking, running, and bike riding may be good options for many people.  And even a brief trip outside for a walk can provide a healthy and welcome break after all the hours spent sheltering in place.

We’re in a strange period right now and one that we’re allowed to feel frustrated with.  Staying active can be a great help in getting through it all.  While we may not be able to keep up our previous physical activity routines, with some creativity and planning we can still stay active and possibly even discover some new favorite workouts that we’ll keep up after things return to normal.

In many ways, everyone is starting fresh – no matter how active we were previously.  So, we’re all working through this together, while remaining apart for now.