How exercise can help during coronavirus
Across the country, fitness clubs and gyms have closed in an effort to stop the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). For many people, this is much more than just missing a workout –fitness routines have been proven to reduce stress as well as being a social outlet, leaving many people no longer able to follow their usual exercise routines.
It’s well accepted that being sedentary is bad for our physical and mental health, so staying active during this difficult time is important. Being physically active can help lower blood pressure and cholesterol, while also maintaining muscle mass and bone density.
Physical activity also helps to keep your immune system working effectively as it flushes bacteria from the lungs and airways, increases white blood cell circulation, and raises body temperature – all of which help the body fight infection.
As well as the physical health benefits, keeping active is a great way to ward off some of the psychological issues associated with being cooped up for an extended time. Being active helps lower stress hormones, such as cortisol, and promotes the release of feel-good hormones, such as endorphins.
In response to the COVID-19 crisis, a variety of digital offerings have sprung up to ensure people can continue exercise while social distancing.
Wearable giant Fitbit announced in a blog post that it is supporting people during the pandemic by offering 90-day free trials of its Fitbit Premium and Fitbit Coach services. The premium service includes more than 150 workouts, while Fitbit Coach allows users to stream workout videos on phones or computers.
Meanwhile, online fitness membership GymCube has commented that it was seeing a surge in users.
Social media workouts
Although gyms have been forced to close their doors, many are offering their members online services instead. UK health club chains David Lloyd and PureGym are both providing members workouts via their mobile apps, while Nuffield Health is offering workouts via its YouTube channel and well-being app. Virgin Active also announced plans to provide workouts through its social media channels and website.
Children haven’t been left out of the fitness equation either. YouTube fitness trainer Joe Wicks is live streaming daily ‘PE with Joe’ lessons on his channel, The Body Coach, on weekdays. His first classes are getting more than 2.1 million views.
If you’re currently stuck at home, you may be feeling demoralised about what this will mean for your fitness. Whether you were training for a marathon or you enjoy working out at the gym, it can be tough to think of putting your usual routine on hold.
Adapting your workout
Even if you’re not much of a fitness fan, you may baulk at the prospect of staying indoors for a number of weeks while barely raising your step count. Exercise is vital for our mental and physical health, and is arguably more important than ever during periods of self-isolation.
The bad news is that, under new measures announced by the Government, leaving your house is only permitted for essential reasons. The good news is that doesn’t mean stopping activity altogether. You’re still able to go outside once per day for exercise. And it’s possible to use this time to get fitter and stronger than ever, albeit while adapting your workout so that it can be done from home.
If you can’t leave the house, one of the most effective workouts is a mix of body-weight exercises and high-intensity interval training (HIIT). Body-weight HIIT workouts are relatively short and don’t take up much space. Best of all, they don’t require any equipment.
Body-weight training uses your body as resistance to give you a challenging workout, which can improve your fitness levels and also build strength. Relying on only your body to work out also improves balance and flexibility, engaging and targeting all of the important muscle groups with just a few exercises.
Interval training can be a great way to maintain fitness, and you don’t need much space. Hill sprints, jump squats, burpees, planks, skipping or fast push-ups will have you sweating in no time. There are plenty of suitable workouts available online.
If you have underlying health problems, or currently have a very sedentary lifestyle and any risk factors for heart disease (such as high blood pressure), HIIT may not be safe for you, and you should consider alternatives that you can try.
If you prefer something lower-impact and don’t want to disturb the neighbours, now’s the time to roll out a mat or towel and try some yoga or Pilates. Just because you’re at home doesn’t mean you can’t access a plethora of yoga classes online, fitness routines and meditations. Walking meditations are ideal and can be done in your house, or outside by following social distancing guidelines. Put your earphones in, concentrate on your chosen guided meditation, and get your steps in whilst you do it.
MoreYoga, London’s largest independent yoga studio chain, has started offering free classes on its YouTube channel.
Of course, even with the best of intentions, you may find your motivation flagging from time to time. You probably just want things to go back to normal, rather than trying to clear an area of space in your living room.
For this reason, it’s important to set goals, big and small, and to schedule your workouts. Routine is important here. You could plan your workouts for first thing in the morning, so you can get them out the way before the day’s distractions start.
You could also set an alarm for a 20-minute movement session three times a day – this will help break the day up and make limited resources go further. Go up and down the stairs, or use a box or ledge to perform step-ups.
It can take about seven to 14 days for your aerobic fitness to start declining. What you lose initially is mostly the gains that you’ve made in the last several months of training. If you’ve been a lifelong runner, you will retain much of your aerobic fitness for several months.
You could track your progress on a fitness app. Some apps have the added advantage of a virtual community, who can hold you accountable and keep you on track. A fitness app will give you solid evidence to refer back to when you’re doubting your progress, and you won’t succumb to negative thoughts that could prevent you from exercising altogether.
Finally, if ever there was a time to apply the power of positive thinking, during this COVID-19 crisis is it. It’s important not to be disheartened if you can’t continue with your current fitness regime, or a race or event that you’ve been training for has been cancelled. In this day and age, there are a plethora of options and resources to work out from home, so rather than taking a negative view of the situation when it comes to maintaining your fitness levels, see it as a motivating challenge and a chance to switch things up and progress.
The coronavirus outbreak is having an impact on everyone’s daily lives. It is important for both your physical and mental health to keep fit and healthy. The Government’s message is that you can exercise outside once a day for one hour, whilst following social distancing guidelines, but stay local and use open spaces near to your home where possible – do not travel unnecessarily. You should only go outside alone or with members of your own household and keep at least two metres apart from anyone outside your household at all times.
If you have a garden, make use of the space for exercise and fresh air. You need to also take hygiene precautions when you are outside, and wash your hands as soon as you are back indoors.
If you’re new to exercise, start small – try maybe ten minutes of yoga or walking a day, then gradually build up. Even ten minutes of movement a day can help your body and mind feel better. Encourage your loved ones, who you’re no doubt spending a lot of time with right now, to take a moment to move their bodies too. And if you’re not feeling well, follow the advice of your health professional – including some rest.
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