This article was originally published in the U.S. News and World Report on April 13, 2020.
THE PHYSICAL BENEFITS of exercise and physical activity are well documented. They include weight management and a lowered risk of hypertension, Type 2 diabetes and certain cancers.
Perhaps less known – and more relevant and pressing at the moment – are the psychological and emotional benefits of remaining active, which include reduced anxiety, reduced risk of depression and improved sleep. Physical activity can also lift your mood and help you manage stress, which is critical when dealing with the seemingly never-ending bad news and constant sense of uncertainty that are the hallmarks of COVID-19.
Stress comes in many forms and can have a number of negative effects on the body, physically, mentally and emotionally. Managing stress through physical activity, meditation or other relaxation or mindfulness techniques will likely be an important part of maintaining your overall wellness during these troubling times.
How Much Exercise?
So, how much exercise do you need and how can you safely exercise during these unprecedented restrictions on your daily life?
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends that each week you perform at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity – or an equivalent combination of the two. In addition, you should complete two sessions of strength training for the major muscle groups of the body per week—this should require only 20-30 minutes per session.
While hitting these guidelines may be challenging when largely house-bound, there are a number of activities you can perform while still adhering to social distancing guidelines. In fact, even stay-at-home orders allow for outdoor exercise, when done safely.
Online and At-Home Options
If you were working with a personal trainer or health coach prior to the arrival of the coronavirus, reaching out to him or her is a good first step. Many exercise professionals have shifted their businesses online as a way to continue to serve their clients.
If you're confined to your home, walk briskly around the house or up and down stairs, have a dance party with your kids, follow along to streaming workouts online or use your home cardio machines if you have them.
If you're able to get outdoors, which may enhance immune function, walk or jog around your neighborhood. If you have a dog, add some time to your usual walks. Drive to a park or local hiking trail to get some exercise, being sure to keep your distance from other people, and keep a small bottle of hand sanitizer with you so you can clean your hands before you get back in the car. Go for a bike ride, do some gardening or play active games with your family.
For strength training, try to find ways to perform simple body-weight exercises throughout the day: squats, push-ups, lunges and sit-to-stand exercises are great options. But be sure to modify them as needed to match your current fitness level. For example, you may prefer to do wall push-ups or push-ups on your hands and knees rather than full push-ups. You can also perform yoga, do a strength-training video or download a workout app to your smartphone.
In addition to performing adequate physical activity, it's important to limit the time you spend sitting, so get up and walk during commercial breaks or after every conference call. Do a set of walking lunges back and forth across your living room. Just keep moving. Your mind and body will be grateful you did.