Fitness Corner: Exercise in the age of coronavirus

The novel coronavirus has upended our lives in a way that few of us have ever experienced. With seemingly no end in sight, it’s an unsettling and frightening time. As we socially distance and isolate ourselves at home more, combined with the loss of control that many of us are feeling, it’s easy to lose sight of what keeps us grounded.

As I always have in times of stress and instability in my life, I am clinging even more fiercely to exercise. I encourage you to do the same. Please make the decision today to keep moving for stress relief and to help keep yourself calm in the face of endless uncertainty. A balanced fitness routine includes at least some strength training and some cardiovascular training, but anything you can do to keep yourself moving right now is enough. Some ideas:

Create a routine
If you are stuck at home, now is the time to create and stick to a routine. Use whatever calendar works best for you to lay out your daily agenda, not just for you but for your family, especially if you are all at home together. Prioritize time for exercise. Implementing and following a routine is very stabilizing.

Personal training
On March 16, 2020, Washington State mandated that, among other establishments, health and fitness clubs must remain closed until March 31. This will seriously impact your trainer (if you already work with one) and/or your gym (if you go to one) — most especially if your trainer is independent and your gym is independently owned (small local business). Please consider reaching out to your trainer or your gym for remote training, even if it is not something they normally do — they are most likely looking into doing it right now. With video-calling options such as Facetime, Skype and Facebook Messenger, you can train remotely at home while simultaneously supporting them. If you don’t have a trainer, this is a good time to find one. Ask your social network for referrals or search online. Every little bit we can do to support others counts right now, and we are all figuring out ways to adapt to this new reality.

Strength training at home
If working with a trainer remotely isn’t an option for you, the online resources are endless. This is a great time to explore YouTube for ideas. (I really like Fitness Blender — they are based in North Seattle, and offer a lot of free programs.) Instagram and Pinterest also have a wealth of workout ideas. There are some good apps out there too, many with free trials. You do not need any additional equipment, there are lots of effective and challenging bodyweight-only exercises. Anything you already have at home is icing on the cake: bands, a stability ball, dumbbells, kettlebells. If you are just getting started, ease into any new workout — look for programs and exercises labeled “beginner.” Give yourself two days of recovery between workouts and keep it very light to start, regardless of whatever program you decide to follow. Take any existing injuries or joint pain into consideration. The last thing you need right now is an injury.

Cardio at home
If you have a treadmill, elliptical machine, stationary bike or a connected piece of equipment with classes included (Peloton) this makes your cardiovascular routine much easier to maintain. If not, go outdoors. You can walk and/or run with only a pair of supportive shoes required. It’s fine to stop and chat with neighbors, but stay 6 feet away. Being outdoors is proven to boost our mental state and immune system — but don’t overdo it, and as always dress for the weather. However, you do what feels right for you, especially if you are in a higher risk category. When in doubt, don’t go out.

Fitness as a family
Whether or not you are exercising solo or you have your kids or other family members at home right now, any kind of movement will do. For families, there are lots of options. An outdoor walk. A family dance party. A friendly competition (who can do the most pushups — kids get a head-start, that kind of thing.) Maybe dig out those old fitness DVDs or find something on YouTube. Video games with movement or dance games are great for the entire family. Mix in a group yoga session. Make it fun for the kids and for yourself. And repeat every day or most days for maximum physical and mental health benefits.

Fuel your body
As much as possible, choose nutrient-dense foods, including protein, whole grains and fruits and veggies in any form. Avoid processed foods and excessive alcohol, neither of which supports the immune system. Don’t eat too little (or too much.) But if you are stocking up for some time at home, it’s okay to grab a treat or two to break out when morale is low. Everything you can do to support your body (and mind) to optimally function counts.

If my gym is open, should I go?
When in doubt, or if you are higher-risk, stay home. I can tell you from experience as a longtime gym owner that most people simply don’t, or aren’t very thorough at, wiping down the equipment they have just used. This may or may not be the case even with everyone’s new widespread awareness of virus transmission. I can assure you that your gym owner and staff have definitely stepped up sanitizing and cleaning procedures at your facility, but it’s a good idea to be extra cautious. If you have any doubts, wipe down equipment or mats prior to using and make liberal use of hand sanitizer (also just go into the bathroom and wash your hands, often). And please, thoroughly wipe down your equipment after using it, including your phone if it is a part of your workout. It’s the considerate thing to do as well as good gym etiquette.

These are unprecedented circumstances in which we find ourselves, and we must do everything in our power to stay healthy and optimistic. If there is one thing that I have learned in this life, personally and professionally, it’s that exercise supports and lifts us up in challenging times. Keep moving, everyone. Just keep moving.

Coach Pritam Potts is a writer and strength coach. After 16+ years of training athletes and clients of all ages as co-owner of Edmonds-based Advanced Athlete LLC, she now lives in Dallas, Texas. She writes about health & fitness, grief & loss, love & life at www.advancedathlete.com.

5 Replies to “Fitness Corner: Exercise in the age of coronavirus”

  1. After I submitted this column for publication, I found out that Peloton has extended the free trial on their digital app to 90 days. I am an avid Peloton user (and bike owner) and I only have good things to say about their classes and the app. You do not need to purchase a bike to take advantage of this offer. The app’s extensive class inventory includes strength, stretching, yoga, meditation, and spinning (you can adapt it to any stationary bike) and walking, running or bootcamp (you can adapt to any treadmill.) They also have audio-only outdoor running classes plus cardio classes (no equipment required.) As always, please start slowly with any new activity and listen to your body.
    https://www.onepeloton.com/app

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  2. One of the best things we can do is go outside and take a walk. As long as you keep a distance from others walking /running/biking, it’s not easy to pass around anything and much easier to do in an enclosed space such as home. We walked Green Lake yesterday and saw lots of families playing Frizbee on the big lawns, families riding bikes, and walking dogs. It was wonderful and relaxing in the nice weather. Hiking is another good option. Maybe training isn’t as important as moving around and clearing the brain.

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    1. As I mention above, being outdoors is proven to boost our mental health and immune system. I personally love walking and running outside and in this gorgeous PNW weather, being outdoors is ideal right now. However, it may not be desirable or physically possible for everyone to get outside, plus, stress relief through exercise comes in different forms. Some prefer yoga, or strength training, or spinning. Some would jump at the no-cost access for the remote classes that Peloton offers, especially when gyms are shut down. Nor do we know how long this situation will last, what works one day may not work the next. My hope is that I offered a variety of training options for a variety of people in this uncertain time, when every bit of movement counts against higher stress levels. Terry, thank you for sharing your positive experience at Green Lake, inspiring!

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  3. Thank you for the link to Fitness Blender…I’m starting with their videos today. It’s been difficult to find a focus for working out so this will work great for me at home. Stay well.

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