Most adults are well aware of the physical and mental health benefits of exercise and understand the importance of engaging in some form of regular physical activity. As the United States copes with the new coronavirus, COVID-19, pandemic, business closures, social distancing and changes in everyday schedules are disrupting just about every aspect of ordinary life — and exercise routines are no exception.
Although it might be tempting to skip your workout during these challenging times, public health officials say that exercise — while undoubtedly crucial under normal circumstances — is essential to your physical health and mental well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic. Here’s why you should stay active and how you can exercise safely during coronavirus closures.
How do COVID-19 closures and stay-at-home orders affect exercise routines?
COVID-19 closures of parks, gyms, fitness studios, and other public places are resulting in reduced opportunities for physical activity — particularly for people who are not able to exercise at home. Social distancing may further affect people’s ability to exercise, especially if outdoor physical activity is not an option due to shelter-in-place orders, crowded outdoor spaces, bad weather, or other factors.
If you are working from home, you may find that you are sitting for more extended periods. And, changes in your daily routines — such as caring for children who are home from school — may make it more challenging to find time to exercise.
What other COVID-19 concerns may affect physical and mental health?
Coronavirus-related concerns may affect dietary habits, leading to higher calorie consumption that could promote weight gain. Limiting trips to the grocery store, skipping fresh fruits and vegetables in favor of stocking up on calorie-dense, non-perishable foods, and financial difficulties may cause people to opt for less expensive, ultra-processed food options. And all the extra hours you’re spending at home may make you more likely to snack, “stress-bake,” or prepare high-calorie, comfort-food meals.
Additionally, many people are coping with fear, anxiety, stress, financial concerns, sadness, boredom, and isolation — all of which can have a negative effect on diet, physical health, and mental well-being.
Why is exercise important during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Regular exercise is essential for everyone under normal circumstances. However, here are a few reasons why exercise is especially crucial during the COVID-19 pandemic:
- Exercise boosts the immune system: Research shows that regular, moderate-intensity exercise has immune-boosting benefits that may help your body fight off infections, including COVID-19.
- Exercise may prevent weight gain: Exercise can help you burn extra calories caused by dietary changes and offset the effects of sedentary activities.
- Exercise reduces stress and anxiety: Exercise is a proven mood-booster and can help adults reduce stress levels and build emotional resilience.
- Exercise improves sleep: There is evidence that suggests regular exercise helps you fall asleep faster and improves sleep quality — and getting a good night’s sleep has also been found to boost your immune system.
Exercise may be especially beneficial for older adults and people with chronic health conditions, such as diabetes, arthritis, or heart disease. Regular exercise can help to improve balance, flexibility, strength, mobility, and cardiovascular health. Plus, it can boost energy and overall well-being.
How can I stay physically active despite COVID-19 closures?
There are many ways you can be active, even when the gym is closed and you are practicing social distancing. According to recommendations the American Heart Association, adults should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity, or at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity, per week.
If you have a chronic condition or are an older adult, you should check with your doctor before starting a new home exercise program. Your doctor may be able to recommend exercises that are safe for you and will let you know what types of exercise you should avoid.
Here are a few suggestions to help you get moving:
- Exercise with family: Exercise is an excellent opportunity for family fun. Walks, bike rides, dance parties, living-room yoga sessions, or backyard soccer games are just a few examples of how you and your household members can exercise together.
- Get outdoors: Walking, cycling, jogging, and hiking can help you get some much-needed fresh air while staying safely away from others. Don’t have time for a full-length outdoor exercise session? Consider breaking your workout up into several 10-minute sessions. You’ll be surprised at how quickly a few brisk walks around the block can add up to a full workout.
- Take a virtual class: Supporting your local fitness studio or personal trainer by signing up for online fitness classes or training sessions. Some personal trainers are even offering private virtual sessions customized to your needs, schedule, and preferences. Plus, having a class or training session on your calendar allows you to interact with other people in a fun way, which may be just the motivation you need to keep up with your fitness regime.
- Challenge yourself: Set an exercise goal — such as doing yoga five days per week or beating your best 5K time — and make a plan to work toward achieving it.
- Tackle calorie-burning chores: Chores such as mowing the lawn, working in the garden, washing the car, or cleaning out the garage provide excellent opportunities to build muscles and burn calories. In addition to the sense of accomplishment you will feel after your workout, completing a household task will yield even more feel-good benefits.
The bottom line: Although it may take some effort to create and adjust to new fitness routines, regular physical activity can help you optimize your health and well-being during the coronavirus pandemic.
Nuvance Health; John Hopkins, WHO Int.