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Staying active in a pandemic

April 17, 2020 | UCI Health
Staying active during the pandemic

Is your favorite form of exercise a vigorous workout at the gym? A session at a Pilates studio? A recreational league dodgeball game?

These and most other popular activities are shut down as we shelter in place to protect ourselves and others from COVID-19.

Yet exercise is as important than ever. Physical activity not only takes our mind off our worries for a little while — or at least keeps us from scanning the internet for continuous updates on the pandemic — it actually reduces stress. It’s good for our overall well-being and it helps us avoid weight gain.

But getting exercise seems more difficult when access to our usual routines are cut off and we are corralled in our homes much of the time.

“If we’re all at home more than we used to be, we may tend to be more sedentary,” says Dr. Brian Y. Kim, a UCI Health family physician and sports medicine specialist. “We’re all together in limited space.”

Still, there are so many activities we can do at little to no cost, Kim says. He offered the following suggestions.

Go outside

The outdoors isn’t forbidden. On the contrary, state and local health officials have encouraged Californians to get out in the fresh air for a walk, run or bike ride.

It’s understandable that people may be fearful of being exposed to the novel coronavirus, but Kim notes that “the virus is transmitted mainly as droplets when people sneeze or cough, and those get more diluted when you’re out in open air.”

Even so, observing these safety protocols is important:

  • No group hikes or 10-person bike rides
  • Stay with people from your household if you need company
  • Stay at least 6 feet from others
  • Wear a mask
  • Don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth
  • Try to avoid touching surfaces
  • Carry hand sanitizer with you

“When you encounter people out there, be conscious of maintaining distance,” Kim says. “Give people space as you pass them. And if you come to a crosswalk signal, press it with your elbow instead of your hand.”

Be aware of any changes in access to parks, beaches and other public spaces, given that local governments have been restricting parking in some areas to prevent crowds. As a general rule of thumb, if you encounter a large number of people outdoors, look to get your exercise elsewhere.

Make home your gym

At-home workouts are hardly new. Jack LaLanne, Jane Fonda and Richard Simmons had millions of people breaking a sweat in front of their TVs.

YouTube has long offered fitness videos of all types, including classes tailored for senior citizens. Now even your favorite gym may have launched free apps and online courses to keep you moving during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Consider trying something entirely new, such as yoga, which is great for strengthening muscles, improving balance and promoting relaxation.  Some online training programs are now offering a variety of free yoga classes, from beginner to more advanced, Kim says.

Online classes in Pilates and many other forms of exercise are also available at no cost.

A regimen to aim for

Workouts should involve a mix of aerobics to get the heart and lungs pumping, stretches and strength-building exercises, Kim says. Your regimen should include:

  • 150 minutes of cardio workout over the course of a week, including sit-ups, push-ups, squats and lunges
  • Two to three sessions of muscle strengthening and stretching weekly

Don’t have weights or exercise bands? No problem. Soup cans or other items in your pantry can double as weights. Towels, nylons or robe ties can help with stretch exercises; chairs and stairs can help with balance and stretches.

And if you’re lucky enough to have a backyard, you can get some sunshine — and all-important vitamin D — while you work out.

Even vigorous housecleaning can be good exercise, Kim says. Other options might include gardening, construction and fix-it projects around the house that you’ve been putting off.

If you haven’t had a regular exercise habit before, this could be the perfect time to build one, Kim says. And if you’ve let your previous regimen lapse, this could be an opportunity to try some new moves.

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