This is part of Lark’s “Checking in on Yourself During Quarantine” series. The pandemic has drastically altered many aspects of our lives, and the new normal of the stay-at-home lifestyle has likely impacted you both physically and mentally. It is important to check in with yourself regularly to assess how you are coping, so that you can identify self-care practices that will support you. Lark’s “Checking in on Yourself During Quarantine” series is all about slowing down, taking stock of how you are doing, and learning about easy things you can do to nourish your body and mind during COVID-19.
Routines, schedules, and life in general has changed a lot since the pandemic began. And if you slow down to check in with yourself, you may find that quarantine has made you less active than you were before.
But being active is as important now as it ever has been before; regular exercise can help to keep our bodies strong and our mental health in good shape, helping us to cope and stay healthy during this trying time.
It’s time to assess how much physical activity you have been getting lately so that you can make any necessary changes to get back on track.
Check in with yourself: how much are you moving?
Take a moment to slow down and bring some awareness to your daily movement habits. Ask yourself:
- What do my workout habits look like now? What did they look like before the pandemic?
- Am I exercising less than I used to? Am I exercising more?
- Am I spending more time each day sitting?
- Did I previously move a lot on my way to the office or in my workplace? Now that I am home, is less physical activity automatically built into my day?
- How does physical activity currently fit into my leisure time?
This check in may alert you to some changes that need to be made. After all, it’s very common during this time to be moving less than is optimal for your health.
Most people aren’t getting enough physical activity, especially during quarantine
The World Health Organization recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise every week. But if you are like many people right now, you may be finding it difficult to meet that recommendation – or even get close to it.
Studies have shown that during quarantine, many people have become less physically active and more sedentary in their habits.[2,3]
One study in over 3,000 U.S. adults found that physical activity was down 32% in people who were previously active before COVID-19-related restrictions began. What’s more is that the lack of physical activity was associated with a more depressed mood, increased stress, and more loneliness.
While quarantine lifestyle has added several challenges to our daily lives, lack of physical activity is not a new problem. Prior to the pandemic, only 23% of American adults were meeting the recommended amount of physical activity.
But it doesn’t matter if you’ve always struggled with being active, or if the pandemic has gotten in your way. Whatever the case, it is time to do something about it and it is time to move your body more. Lack of physical movement is linked with a long list of health concerns and chronic diseases, while ample physical activity is linked to optimal physical and mental health.
The benefits of physical activity
Exercise isn’t just about lifting weights, running marathons, or getting a six pack. It’s about supporting your body to be the best it can be and to protect yourself from serious health concerns.
Some of the top benefits of being active include:
- Reducing your risk of conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and even some cancers.
- Helping you sleep better
- Improving mood and lowering your risk of depression and anxiety
- Strengthening bones and muscles
- Improving thinking and cognition
- Managing your weight
- Preventing falls [5,6]
Ultimately, being active can even help to increase your chances of living longer. If you are physically active 150 minutes per week, you have a 33% lower risk of mortality from any cause.
During a global pandemic, the benefits of exercise are of the utmost importance if you want to stay healthy and well, both mentally and physically.
Exercise can help you to improve your mental health, combating things like stress, isolation, anxiety, and depressive symptoms. And regular physical activity can also help to keep you physically healthy. In fact, regular physical activity can improve conditions that put you at risk for COVID-19 and can strengthen and prepare the immune system to fight off illnesses like COVID-19.[7,8]
Tips for staying more motivated with exercise during the pandemic
Have you lost your motivation to exercise during the pandemic? Do you find it difficult to fit in movement to your daily routine? Here are some helpful tips to help you get back on track with your goals.
1. Set up and be prepared ahead of time. Do you need a dedicated space where you won’t be interrupted during a workout? Do you need any equipment on hand? Do you need to make sure your spouse watches the kids while you go on your walk? Take the time to get prepared ahead of time, so that you don’t come across any barriers when it’s time to get active. Move furniture out of the way, gather items like a yoga mat or weights, and create a plan with your family so you increase the chances of success.
2. Set goals. Start simple and small, giving yourself realistic and achievable goals that also challenge you. Maybe you need to start with the goal of taking a 15-minute walk three times per week. With time, your longer-term goal may be to walk for 30 minutes per day five times per week. Eventually, you may work your way up to running one mile of your route instead of walking the whole way.
3. Follow a regular routine. A daily routine can help you stick with your fitness goals. Find a time of day that works best for you to exercise, and commit to it. You might even want to add reminders or alarms to your calendar so that you don’t skip over your workout time.
4. Connect with others. Accountability is huge. Increase your sense of accountability by connecting with family or friends, joining an online exercise community, doing virtual group fitness classes, etc.
5. Track your progress. Whether you keep an old fashioned pen-and-paper exercise diary or you use modern technology in the form of wearable devices, tracking your habits can help you to see your progress, celebrate wins, and challenge yourself to do better.
6. Make it fun. Exercise doesn’t have to be a chore; it can be something you look forward to. Find an activity you enjoy. It might be bike riding to the grocery store, going hiking on weekends, doing yoga in your living room, or playing a sport with your kids in the backyard. It doesn’t matter what it is, as long as it’s something you find enjoyable and that gets you moving.
7. Reward yourself. When you hit a goal or meet a challenge you’ve set for yourself, give yourself some kudos. Set up a reward system ahead of time so you have something to look forward to, like a takeout meal from your favorite restaurant or an afternoon off to pamper yourself.[9,10]
Simple ways to move your body more each day during quarantine
Who said you had to go to the gym or run 5 miles a day to be active? Sometimes, we get stuck in thinking that physical activity has to look a certain way. But the truth is that the more we move – however we choose to move – the better.
Here are some simple, daily activities that can help you to get more physically active each and every day (all while maintaining social distancing and staying safe):
- Go for a walk or a bike ride around the neighborhood after work.
- Play as a whole family. Hide and seek, tag, sports, building forts, etc. all require moving your body and getting active!
- Do household chores like vacuuming, cleaning, and organizing regularly. Space out your housework so you have a little bit to do each day.
- Mow the grass, rake leaves, weed the garden, and do other yard work.
- Do simple exercises or stretches while watching TV. You might even try doing some jumping jacks, lunges, or pushups on commercial breaks.
- Take an online exercise class. Choose something that interests you that you’ve always wanted to try like yoga, Pilates, circuit training, barre, martial arts, or anything that sounds fun to you.
- Stand up at least once per hour to get up and move around. This is especially important during the workday or while watching TV.
- Consider a new active hobby that gets you moving like woodworking, gardening, hiking, kayaking, bird watching, or something else that sparks your passion.[1,11]
For some, the pandemic has nudged them to become even more active and interested in exercise than before, whether that’s due to an increased focus on health awareness, more available free time, or messaging from governmental agencies reminding us to stay healthy and active.
But for a lot of people, it’s had the opposite effect.
Even though it might be harder now for you to be active in your daily life, it is essential that you find a way to move your body that works for you. As the World Health Organization reminds us, the daily physical activity recommendations “can still be achieved at home, with no special equipment and with limited space.”
Get creative, have fun with it, and find activities you enjoy on your own or with the whole family. Your mental and physical health will thank you!