Due to ongoing concerns about the spread of COVID-19, this summer is shaping up to be unlike any other.
Sporting events and vacations have been cancelled, restaurant reopenings in many states have been put on pause and many companies are still urging employees to work from home. It can seem like the only thing as ubiquitous as social distancing is the anxiety over how to stay healthy.
One of the best ways to help calm your nerves — and one of the least expensive — is exercise.
"It can help reduce tension and elevate mood by releasing endorphins, as well as norepinephrine, serotonin and dopamine," says Alexandra Kreps, MD, a board certified primary care physician and internist at Tru Whole Care in New York City. "It can also work to stabilize mood and regulate sleep."
Plus, it's "a proven strategy to help improve, strengthen and maintain a good immune system," says Percell Dugger, a certified strength coach and founder of GOODWRK. Something we can all benefit from right now.
Get tips on how to stay healthy, safe and sane during the novel coronavirus pandemic.
But with many gyms and studios still closed and most people finding themselves staying close to home — either as a precautionary measure or by doctor's orders — you may feel it's inevitable that your workouts will fall by the wayside. In fact, around the globe, daily activity has dropped due to the pandemic.
Just 10 days after the World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus a pandemic in March, average daily step counts decreased by about 5 percent, according to a June 2020 study in Annals of Internal Medicine. Within 30 days, steps were down by 27 percent.
Fortunately, staying active at home — even just squeezing in a few hundred more steps every days — doesn't have to be complicated or take a long time. We tapped fitness pros for a couple of creative ways to get moving without risking your health or the health of those around you.
1. Dance It Out
Put together a playlist of your favorite songs — "ones that get your heart pumping by just listening and that zap you into your own mental music video," says Ivy Ledon, an instructor at 305 Fitness — and dance like no one's watching.
"Music is a universal language," says Ledon, noting that 305 Fitness currently offers free online dance workout videos. And if your little ones are home from school, an impromptu dance party keeps them active and entertained, while helping them expend pent-up energy.
2. Take a Squat Break
Who says you need to be at the gym to drop it like a squat? You can do them pretty much anywhere. Plus, a March 2020 study from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that squatting, which is a natural and functional movement pattern, not only offers higher levels of muscle activity than sitting but may also help reduce some of the associated health risks (think cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, etc.)
In other words, a squat break may be just what the doctor ordered. Try it while brushing your teeth, says Victoria Brown, a senior instructor at SoulCycle. Considering the American Dental Association recommends brushing your teeth for two minutes twice a day, that's a nice chunk of time to target every muscle in your lower body, including your quads, hamstrings and glutes, while you practice good oral hygiene.
3. Strike a Pose
Whether you're a yogi or not, when anxiety is high, yoga should be a go-to. Here's why: It's a proven stress and anxiety buster. All you need is a mat or towel.
Faheem Mujahid, a certified yoga teacher, personal trainer and mindset coach, suggests trying the following two poses while you're on lockdown. They get your whole body involved and engaged your entire kinetic chain from head to toes, which if you've spent multiple hours horizontal, is likely needed.
Move 1: Warrior I
Why? Strengthens the legs, opens the hips and chest, and stretches the arms and legs
- Start with your feet about four feet apart, right in front of left, turning the toes of your back foot out to a 45-degree angle.
- Keeping the back leg straight, bend your front knee, making sure it's stacked over the right ankle. Keep your hips and shoulders square to the front.
- Reach your arms straight up alongside your ears and bring your palms together to touch. Gaze up.
- Hold for three breaths, then switch sides.
Move 2: Crow Pose
Why? Strengthens the core, arms, back, wrists and inner thighs.
- Stand with feet wider than hip-width apart. Bend your knees and lower your torso between legs.
- Place your hands on the floor, scoop in your lower abs and lift your hips high, placing your knees into your upper arms.
- Transfer your weight into hands, tip forward and slowly lift one foot off the floor, followed by the other, tucking them in towards your butt.
- Hold for three breaths.
4. Combine Cooking and Calisthenics
Since you've likely been spending more time in the kitchen, use that time to do some leg lifts while you're whipping up a healthy meal for yourself and your family.
"By lifting your leg either to the side or behind you in an arabesque while you're cooking, you can tone your glutes and outer thighs in a fun way," says Robbie Ann Darby, a certified personal trainer and creator of RAD Experience.
Looking for more of a challenge? Darby suggests adding a mini resistance band around your thighs or ankles to intensify the exercise so you really feel the burn.
5. Walk This Way
Whether you're taking conference calls while working from home or FaceTime-ing with your friends, make the decision to simultaneously move your feet. Walk the length of your home, around the kitchen table or even up and down the stairs if you have them.
Research shows it can boost your mood, energy and immune system. And all you need is at least 20 minutes. That's two 10-minute calls or four 5-minute calls, which is totally doable, and much better for you than sitting on your behind.
6. Get Creative With Furniture
Your house is full of non-traditional workout equipment just waiting to be used. Darby likes to head to her couch for killer core work. Her move of choice: V-sits. "When you do this exercise on the couch, which is cushy and therefore unstable, you get an extra burn." It's a great way to make your Instagram scrolling sessions more productive.
Move 1: V-Sit
- Lie on your back on the couch with legs and arms extended.
- Simultaneously lift your torso and legs, bringing your hands and feet to touch. Hold.
- Slowly lower back down to the start and repeat.
- Aim for 3 sets of 10 to 15.
Move 2: Incline Push-Up
- Get into a high plank with your hands resting on a barstool or chair. Hands should be slightly wider than your shoulders.
- Engage your abs and lower down until your chest nearly touches the stool. Hold.
- Push back to the start.
- Try to knock out as many as you can in 45 seconds.
Move 3: Triceps Dip
- Position yourself between two barstools — a hand on each one — or at the edge of a chair, hands positioned behind you.
- Lower your hips between the stools, so that legs are bent and thighs are parallel to the floor; arms should be straight.
- Bend your elbows and lower your body toward the floor until your arms form 90-degree angles.
- Push back up to start and continue for 45 seconds.
Still on the 'Gram? Film yourself and post it to your Stories. Perhaps you’ll inspire someone in your crew to get sweaty too.
7. Crush Calories With Chores
Being confined to your home gives you the opportunity to turn mundane tasks into exercise opportunities.
Move 1: Mountain Climber
"Try mountain climbers, driving your knees up, while holding a plank position with dust rags under the balls of your feet or split lunges while you vacuum," Brown says.
- Press up into a high plank position like you're about to do a push-up, with hands beneath the shoulders and your body in a straight line from head to heels.
- Bring your right knee into your chest, engaging your abs at the same time.
- Return your right knee to starting position.
- Bring your left knee into your chest, then shoot it back, switching legs at your desired pace.
Move 2: Biceps Curl
Or if you're tired of watching those dirty clothes pile up and need to do a load of laundry or two, consider a round of biceps curls with the laundry detergent.
"Try different angles," Brown says. "Down the center, hinge at your hips and curl toward your opposite shoulder, then stand tall and curl out to the side." You arms will thank you.
- Stand and hold weights in each hand, palms facing up and about shoulder-width apart.
- Keeping your elbows glued to your sides and your chest upright, raise the weights up toward your shoulders. At the top of the motion, focus on flexing your biceps.
- Slowly lower the weights until your elbows extend fully at the bottom without locking.
Move 3: Russian Twist
If you're feeling extra ambitious and have decided to not only wipe down your shelves but also finally color coordinate your books, use this as a moment to work your core. "Fill up a weekender bag with books and do Russian twists on your carpet or yoga mat," Brown says.
- Sit down on the floor with your knees bent.
- Keep your abs contracted and twist your torso to the right, bringing your arms out to the right as well.
- Rotate back through center, then twist to the left.
8. Take a TV Break
There's likely been a lot of television watching over the last few months. Moving forward, each time a commercial comes on, pick a few exercises — sit-ups, planks, push-ups, lunges, etc. — and do 20 seconds on and 20 seconds off until your show starts up again, Dugger says.
More of a Netflix-and-chill type? Either work out during the show or tell yourself you'll do a dumbbell complex in between episodes. That involves performing a series of movements that complement each other back-to-back in a circuit without putting the weight down, Dugger says. Try this one:
- 5 bent-over rows
- 5 Romanian deadlifts
- 5 cleans
- 5 standing presses
- Do 5 rounds total
Move 1: Bent-Over Row
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart, a slight bend in knees, and a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing in.
- Hinge at hips and lower your torso slightly, allowing your arms to hang down.
- Keeping back flat, squeeze your shoulder blades and bend your elbows, pulling weights up to the sides of your ribs.
- Slowly lower arms back to the start.
Move 2: Romanian Deadlift
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart with a slight bend in your knees, holding a dumbbell in each hand out in front of you.
- Hinge at your hips, pushing your butt back as you lower the dumbbells down.
- Squeeze your glutes, hamstrings and core, driving your feet into the ground to rise back to standing.
Move 3: Clean
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart in a slight squat, holding a dumbbell in each hand at sides, palms facing in.
- Driving through your heels, explode up and flip your wrists so they face forward, bringing the weights to your shoulders.
- Straighten your legs to stand tall.
- Pause, then lower weights to your sides to return to the start.
Move 4: Standing Press
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, a dumbbell in each hand, arms bent slightly, hands slightly wider than shoulders, palms facing your body.
- Press the weights straight up, twisting them so your palms face forward at the top.
- Reverse motion to return to start.
No weights? No worries. Dugger says you can use filled gallon water jugs, soup cans, heavy books or bags filled with things from your cabinet or even fruit (think apples or oranges).
Concerned About COVID-19?
Read more stories to help you navigate the novel coronavirus pandemic:
- Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, Exercise type and activities of daily living disability in older women: An 8‐year population‐based cohort study
- Mouth Health/ National Dental Association
- Alexandra Kreps, MD, a board certified primary care physician and internist at Tru Whole Care
- Percell Dugger, a certified strength coach and founder of GOODWRK
- Victoria Brown, a senior Instructor at SoulCycle
- Ivy Ledon, Instructor, 305 Fitness
- Faheem Mujahid, a certified yoga teacher, personal trainer and mindset coach
- Robbie Ann Darby, a certified trainer and the creator of RAD Experience
- Harvard Health Publishing, Waling fir Health
- Annals of Internal Medicine: "Worldwide Effect of COVID-19 on Physical Activity: A Descriptive Study"
- WHO: "WHO Timeline - COVID-19"