In this unprecedented time of the COVID-19 outbreak, all of our lives have been flipped upside-down. With the changes in our routines, we can sometimes lose our desire or capability to continue our daily activities (work and/or exercise). With social distancing guidelines, many people cannot go to the places where they typically performed their exercise programs, whether it was a gym setting or group activities in the park or around the neighborhood. Additionally, the stress associated with the current state of affairs in our country can impact our mental health as well as our physical health. Scientists have shown that stress can also negatively impact our immune function.
There is good news! Regular participation in aerobic activity has been shown to decrease stress, elevate and stabilize moods, and improve sleep. Physical exercise has also been shown to improve our cardiovascular health, physical strength, mental health and, yes, even our immune system.
Many people feel like they can’t start an exercise program without buying expensive equipment or joining a gym. This could not be further from the truth. There are a multitude of exercises that can be done at home without any financial investment. Simply using the weight of our body in repetitive tasks can allow us to strengthen muscles and get our heart pumping. Below are a couple of example exercises to get you started.
- Sit to stands – This is simple and effective exercise that anyone can do. Find a solid chair such as a dining table chair. Sit a few inches away from the back of the chair and without using your arms stand up and then sit back down. That’s it! Repeat in sets of 5, 10 or 15 with a minute or two of rest. Then complete 2 more sets of 5, 10 or 15. This exercise is a good cardiovascular exercise and will improve leg strength. If you have trouble with your balance you can do this exercise in front of the table, use the arm rests, or with a family member to watch you.
- Step-ups – If you have stairs in your home this is a fantastic exercises. If you do not have stairs you can use a sturdy step-stool of even the threshold of your house at the front or back door. To perform this exercise stand in front of your step and step up with your right foot first and then place your left foot on top of the step. Then step down one foot at a time. Repeat stepping up with the right foot first 5, 10 or 15 times, then rest. At this point you can either switch to starting with your left foot or continue with your right for 2 more sets of 5, 10, or 15. The object is to complete 3 sets on the right and 3 sets on the left. For safety, holding on to your stair handrail is a good idea. If you are using your threshold you can hold on to the door frame, and if you are using a step-stool you can do this next to your kitchen counter.
- (Wall)Push-ups – Yes those things you did long ago in PE, but we are going to modify them a little for safety and comfort. We will start by doing this on the wall. Stand facing your wall with your toes about 12 inches away from the wall. Place your hands on the wall at shoulder height. Keeping your body straight, bend your arms and let your body move toward the wall until your nose touches, then push against the wall straightening your arm to lift your body away from the wall. Repeat 3 sets of 5, 10, or 15 repetitions with a short break in-between. To increase the difficulty, you can move your feet further from the wall to increase the body weight your arms will have to move. If you are comfortable with getting up and down from the floor and have good arm strength and endurance already, you can start these from your knees on the floor and then progress to your toes for a standard push-up.
- Straight-leg raises – This is an exercise we use in the clinic often for many different patient populations. It is a multi-purpose exercise that can be used to improve balance and strength. For safety, this exercise is best performed standing at your kitchen or bathroom sink. Start by standing with your right side toward the sink and your hand on the counter or sink. Stand up straight and lift your right leg forward about 12-18 inches and then lower your leg. As before, repeat these 5, 10, or 15 times. After resting a minute or two, complete 2 more sets of 5, 10, or 15. Then turn so your left side is toward the sink and lift your left leg 12-18 inches, Repeating for 3 sets of 5, 10, or 15 times. Remember to stand up straight and do not lean your body backwards to help lift the leg. This same exercise can be done by lifting the leg to the sides as well as backwards.
- Go for a walk – I saved the simplest for last. Walking is one of the most underrated exercises. The best part is you can do it anywhere. Whether it is walking around in your yard, up and down your driveway, around your block or even walking around your house, walking is a fantastic exercise, which will promote fitness, cardiovascular health, improve mood and sleeping patterns. If you are able to walk outside you will also boost your vitamin D level which can improve bone health and your immune system.
Hopefully, you have seen that there are things you can do to make yourself healthier both physically and mentally without the need for buying equipment or being around groups of people. Remember to follow social distancing guidelines. Take your cell phone with you if you go for a walk in case you need it. Be safe, be well!
Doug James, PT