The extensive social distancing policies put in place to limit the spread of COVID-19 mean most people will have to spend much, if not all, their time at home. Self-isolation means far fewer opportunities to be physically active if you are used to walking or cycling for transportation and doing leisure time sports.
But equally worryingly, the home environment also offers abundant opportunity to be sedentary (sitting or reclining). While self-isolation measures are necessary, our bodies and minds still need exercise to function well, prevent weight gain and keep the spirits up during these challenging times.
Exercise can help keep our immune system become strong, less susceptible to infections and their most severe consequences, and better able to recover from them. Even before the restrictive conditions were announced, physical inactivity cost 5.3 million lives a year globally. So we should consider ways to limit the effects of the impact of the COVID-19 crisis, as well as its wider impact of contributing to the long-term chronic disease crisis.
How much physical activity?
For years, Health.gov has recommended at least 150 minutes of exercise per week for adults, consumed in increments of 10 minutes or more, with 30 minutes five times a week being set as the target. This has been an unreachable standard for many of us...according to the WI Dept. of Health Services, just 21% of Wisconsin adults get enough aerobic and strength-building activities to meet the national guidelines.
However, recent research shows that more bite-size chunks of exercise can benefit adults, and in late 2018, the Health.gov changed its guidelines. This is great news for those of us who find it hard to block out half an hour for exercise during our busy days. Instead 5-to-10 minute blocks of exercise, spread here and there through the day...before work, during a break, lunch, or after work...it’s way easier than scheduling a 30-minute exercise time!
Any activity is better than none, and more activity provides more physical and mental health benefits.
What can you do?
• Take regular breaks from continuous sitting in front of your computer, tablet, or smartphone every 20 to 30 minutes. For example, you could take a few minutes break to walk around the house, take some fresh air on the deck, in the garden or yard, or play with your dog for a few moments.
• Make stairs your best friend. Using the stairs is an extremely time-efficient way to maintain fitness. As little as three 20-second fast stair climbs a day can improve fitness in only six weeks.
• Use your own bodyweight - home based strength exercises that utilize your own bodyweight – such as press-ups, sit-ups and planks – are as important for health as aerobic exercise.
• Dance the COVID-19 blues away! An increasing number of live concerts are streamed online. Use the stress-releasing magic of music and dance at home like nobody’s watching (which is not unlikely).
• Play with your pets - Social-distancing is a good opportunity to bond more with the little two and four legged members of your family through active play. Both children and dogs will love you replacing some of your online media and sitting time with playing in and around the house with them.
No matter how young or how old your children are, there are many fun activities you can do together indoors and in the yard. Just do something!
Left unattended, the self-isolation imposed by COVID-19 will likely skyrocket sedentary time and will drastically reduce the physical activity levels for many. Our suggestions are only a few examples of ideas that need no special equipment and can be done within limited space.
The end goal during self-isolation is to prevent long term physical and mental health damage by sitting less, moving as often as possible, and aiming to maintain fitness by huffing and puffing a few times a day.