With gyms now closed because of new government guidelines, many are thrown off their exercise routines. Social distancing mandates have put an end to recreational leagues, group exercise classes and sports.
Just because you can’t go to the gym or take your favorite yoga class, doesn’t mean you can’t stay active. Now, more than ever, it’s important to move your body and keep active — for both your physical and mental health.
Exercise for Sound Body and Mind
Patricia Benavidez-Kneip, APRN, FNP-C, a family nurse practitioner on the medical staff at Texas Health Family Care, a Texas Health Physicians Group practice, says exercise decreases stress and gives your mind a break to help distract you from daily worries and stressors.
“Exercise enhances physical fitness and helps maintain overall health and wellness,” she adds. “You feel better and are more energetic. It also improves mood, confidence and mental health.”
Getting exercise need not be complicated. While you may see different at-home workouts shared on social media ranging from easy to difficult, there are many ways to stay fit. Richard Martinez, M.Ed., CPT, certified personal trainer at Texas Health Fitness Center Burleson, recommends focusing on lifting something heavy and getting out of breath a bit.
He says anything that gets you active can be exercise. Pushing a lawnmower while doing yard work or getting on the floor scrubbing baseboards will give you a good mobility workout.
Martinez explains that our bodies adapt based on their exposure to stimuli. If we stay active and stress the body by lifting weights, our muscles grow. When we put our body under constant tension such as with a yoga workout, our muscles maintain their natural length. The opposite is also true. If we limit our movements, our bodies think we don’t need the range of motion so our muscles, ligaments and tendons will shorten.
“Regardless of whatever activity or fitness program you find, the main idea is to just move,” he says. “Just timing yourself in any activity will add intensity and get your heart rate up.”
Benavidez-Kneip adds that physical activity allows you to break away from the cycle of negative thoughts and feelings because of stressors that can feed anxious or depressive symptoms. Engaging in regular exercise improves emotional and psychological well-being, she says. It increases confidence and improves coping mechanisms.
“Exercise provides a physical outlet that helps to decrease the body’s response to stressors,” she adds. “The reduction in stress through exercise not only gives your mind a break, it also may relieve the pressure that is placed on the immune system. Exercise increases our ability to deal with stressors by providing a channel for the reduction of tensions through physical activity.”
Moving your body causes your brain to release endorphins, which are natural mood-elevating chemicals. The result? An improved mood, and an increased ability to cope with stressors.
Where to Start
When it comes to the type of exercise you do, it depends on your fitness level, your health and personal ability. Martinez says you can mix and match a variety of exercises using only your body or basic at-home exercise equipment.
For example, a beginner can have a good workout by doing:
If you’re more advanced, repeat this set as many times as you like.
The next day, you can do a TABATA-style workout (20 seconds of intense exercise with 10-second breaks for eight rounds for each exercise) with chair step-ups followed by Russian twists using a pack of water bottles. Martinez recommends adding a 10-15-minute warm-up and a 10-15-minute cooldown, which will give you a 30-45-minute workout.
He suggests mixing up your workouts but says not to worry too much about working the same muscle groups back-to-back. He offers the following exercises you can mix and match to create your at-home exercise routine:
- Mountain climbers
- Chair step-ups
- Chair dips
- Russian twists using a pack of water bottles
- Back and front squats using a loaded backpack
- Bent-over rows using 1-5-gallon water jugs
- Jump rope
- Jumping jacks
- 100-meter – 400-meter runs
For a good cardio workout, Martinez says nothing beats good old-fashioned running. If you have bad knees, he says riding a bike is not only a good form of exercise but also an excellent way to get out of the house.
Working around your yard and doing housework can also give your body a good workout. Martinez adds, “We hear the term ‘functional training’ used in many current fitness programs and it does not get more functional than being out in the real world and using our surroundings to get a good workout in.”
Benavidez-Kneip suggests that exercise need not be done all at one time. You can break it up during the day and include going for a walk, washing your car, gardening and anything else that will get your body moving. She says just finding new things to do that increase movement will add to your daily physical activity and improve overall health.
It’s also important to involve the entire family by doing exercise together, such as a walk, bike ride or a hike. This allows for open communication away from distractions, family bonding, creating memories and coping with difficulties.
“Staying active is important for families but the importance is increased during stressful times,” she adds. “Changing the scenery allows for adventure, exploration and discovery. Children need to disconnect from technology and get physical exercise daily. They also need to see adults doing the same.”
Don’t forget your mental health during this time, says Benavidez-Kneip. Practice relaxation techniques such as meditation 10 – 15 minutes, three to four times a week. This can help improve both your mental and physical health. Breathing exercises and muscle relaxation are also helpful to help ease anxiety and decrease stress.
Martinez adds, “Focus on what you can control, especially right now that times may seem a bit uncertain. We need positive things in our lives and exercise plays a key role in maintaining our health, longevity and quality of life.”