When you’re cooped up, as most of us are these days, exercise is more important than ever. It helps us physically, of course, but also mentally and emotionally.
“First and foremost, it’s for mental health right now,” says Jess Hamilton, manager of the fitness centers at Texas Health Neighborhood Care & Wellness Burleson, Fort Worth and Willow Park. “Being out of the norm and not in your routine, it’s even more important to get out, get active and get your endorphins active.”
Endorphins are chemicals the body releases that trigger a positive feeling. And who couldn’t use more of that right now? Plus, exercise helps us sleep better, reduces stress, contributes to a sense of calm and helps us be less anxious.
But how can you get a good workout when the gyms and many parks are closed? In a series of stories, we’re going to call upon Texas Health experts like Hamilton to show you ways to incorporate movement into your day, your life, and your soul to accomplish that.
We’ll start out focusing on cardio, but first, this request: Don’t let the word “exercise” scare you off. We’re not talking marathon training here. Hamilton recommends a focused movement in as few as 30 minutes a day — in one chunk, two chunks, or even in three 10-minute sessions spread across the day.
“Everybody is trying to balance teaching kids or working from home,” Hamilton says. “There’s a lot going on in everyone’s world.”
By the same token, if the day passes without you getting your 30 minutes in, don’t berate yourself over it. This isn’t the time for that; it’s the time for feeling good about yourself, for taking care of YOU.
Where to Start
When it comes to the type of exercise you do, it depends on your fitness level, your health and personal ability. You can mix and match a variety of exercises using only your body or basic at-home exercise equipment. Below is a great example of a cardio workout that can be modified for your ability and fitness level.
Starting with feet together and hands down by the side, jump your feet outside shoulder width and hands over your head and return to the starting position. Repeat.
Modification: Clap your hands above your head as in a standard jumping jack; instead of jumping, march in place, lifting your knees high.
Start in a push-up position with your legs straight and core braced. Bring 1 knee up as far as possible tapping the toe, bring the foot back to the start position, make sure to keep the hips level throughout the movement.
Modification: Use something sturdy like a countertop or back of the couch. Angle yourself into a plank position, then bring one knee up at a time toward your chest. Go as fast as or as slow as you feel comfortable, taking care not to dip your hips and thus cause pressure on your low back.
Start in a standing neutral position, begin by bringing each knee up to a 90-degree angle even with the hip and quickly back down to the ground while also pumping the opposite arm of the knee coming up. Slowly move forward and spend as little time with each foot on the ground as possible.
Modification: Instead of running in place, march in place. Drive each knee up as high as you can, touching the opposite hand to the lifted knee with each step. Once you start to feel comfortable or want to progress, add a little jog every few steps or seconds.
Complete three rounds of 30-60 seconds of each exercise with 15-90 seconds rest between, based on your fitness level. In addition to the exercises you are completing, the nature of this circuit forces you to go from a standing to prone (lying) position which adds a large metabolic component and is functional for daily living.
Fitness is for Everyone
Keep in mind — and this is important to remember for any workout — if an exercise is too tough, modify it. There are always a variety of ways to do anything, exercise included. You can push yourself through discomfort, but never push yourself through pain.
If you find the listed exercises too tough, even with the modifications, no worries! Everyone deserves an opportunity to get a great workout. That’s why we’ve also included a mobility- and cardiac rehab-friendly alternative that you can do from a seated position!
To stay active all week and add a variety of workouts to your routine, Hamilton suggests going to any of the Fitness Centers’ Facebook pages, such as this one for Willow Park for additional workouts.
“We’re working with FX Well and additional platforms to do other workouts,” she says. “Every day we’re releasing a workout so you don’t have to guess at it. Get the app and the promo code; it’s a really neat platform.”
There, you can find lists of exercises, modifications and specific workouts geared toward you, whether you’re a beginner or experienced exerciser.
However you choose to do cardio, Hamilton offers these all-around tips to making the most of at-home workouts:
Just do it. Start today, not tomorrow. “I can guarantee you’ll always feel better, even if you only work out for 10 minutes,” Hamilton says.
Remember movement comes in many forms. Mowing the lawn (grass still grows, quarantine or not) and vacuuming the carpet or mopping the floor (both of which still get dirty, especially because everyone is home) add more points to your movement column.
Make good use of small time increments. Do countertop push-ups while your coffee reheats. During commercials, jog in place or get some jumping jacks in.
Be flexible. Sure, having a routine is good, but if you miss the time you’d set aside to work out, that’s OK, Hamilton says. Just fit it in another time.
Do what works for YOU. If you don’t like to run, don’t. If everyone says such-and-such workout is the bomb but it’s not your cup of tea, find another way to get your heart rate up and your endorphins flowing.
Listen to your body. If you’re sore, don’t press it. If a movement hurts, don’t do it.
Keep track of what you’ve done. Write it down; seeing you’ve accomplished something will spur you on to do more, Hamilton says.
Reach out. Swap workout ideas with a friend; maybe call each other while you’re walking.
Always, always get outside. Go outdoors and get that Vitamin D, Hamilton says. “It doesn’t always mean going for a walk. It could mean picking up sticks in your yard.” Weed your garden. Play catch with your kids. Your body and your soul crave being in nature.