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Exercise is Essential for Well-Being During COVID-19 Pandemic



The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted just about every aspect of ordinary life — and exercise routines are no exception. Work-from-home, remote learning, and public health guidelines for gyms and fitness facilities that include capacity limitations, cleaning protocols, mask wearing, and social distancing has changed how, when, and where we exercise.

Although it might be tempting to skip your workout during these challenging times, public health officials say that exercise — while undoubtedly crucial under normal circumstances — is essential to your physical health and mental well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic. Here’s why you should stay active and how you can exercise safely during the pandemic.

What COVID-19 concerns may affect physical and mental health?

If you’re working from home, you may find that you’re sitting for more extended periods. And, changes in your daily routines — such as caring for kids who are home from school — may make it more challenging to find time to exercise.

COVID-19-related concerns may affect dietary habits, leading to higher calorie consumption that could promote weight gain. Limiting trips to the grocery store, skipping fresh fruits and vegetables in favor of stocking up on calorie-dense, non-perishable foods, and financial difficulties may cause people to opt for less expensive, ultra-processed food options. All the extra hours you’re spending at home may make you more likely to snack, “stress-bake,” or prepare high-calorie, comfort-food meals.

Additionally, many people are coping with fear, anxiety, stress, financial concerns, sadness, boredom, and isolation — all of which can have a negative effect on diet, physical health, and mental well-being.

Why is exercise important during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Regular exercise is essential for everyone under normal circumstances. However, here are a few reasons why exercise is especially crucial during the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • Exercise boosts the immune system: Research shows that regular, moderate-intensity exercise has immune-boosting benefits that may help your body fight off infections, including COVID-19.

  • Exercise may prevent weight gain: Exercise can help you burn extra calories caused by dietary changes and offset the effects of sedentary activities.

  • Exercise reduces stress and anxiety: Exercise is a proven mood-booster and can help adults reduce stress levels and build emotional resilience.

  • Exercise improves sleep: There is evidence that suggests regular exercise helps you fall asleep faster and improves sleep quality — and getting a good night’s sleep has also been found to boost your immune system.

Exercise may be especially beneficial for older adults and people with chronic health conditions, such as diabetes, arthritis, or heart disease. Regular exercise can help to improve balance, flexibility, strength, mobility, and cardiovascular health. Plus, it can boost energy and overall well-being.

How can I stay physically active despite COVID-19 closures?

There are many ways you can be active, even if you decide to not go to a gym. For example, you can start a new home exercise program.

According to recommendations from the American Heart Association, adults should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity, or at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity, per week.

Related article: What you need to know about heart disease prevention

If you have a chronic condition or are an older adult, check with your doctor before starting a new home exercise program. Your doctor may be able to recommend exercises that are safe for you and will let you know what types of exercise you should avoid.

Here are a few suggestions to help you get moving:

  • Exercise with family: Exercise is an excellent opportunity for family fun. Walks, bike rides, dance parties, living-room yoga sessions, or backyard soccer games are just a few examples of how you and your household members can exercise together.

  • Get outdoors: Walking, cycling, jogging, and hiking can help you get some much-needed fresh air while staying safely away from others. Don’t have time for a full-length outdoor exercise session? Consider breaking your workout up into several 10-minute sessions. You’ll be surprised at how quickly a few brisk walks around the block can add up to a full workout.

  • Follow along with online exercise videos: Whether you enjoy yoga, cardio kickboxing, Pilates, strength training, barre, dance, or another type of workout, chances are you can find a service that offers online videos. Additionally, many exercise studios and other community organizations are now providing on-demand virtual fitness content.

  • Take a virtual class: If you have the financial resources, consider supporting your local fitness studio or personal trainer by signing up for online fitness classes or training sessions. Some personal trainers are even offering private virtual sessions customized to your needs, schedule, and preferences. Plus, having a class or training session on your calendar allows you to interact with other people in a fun way, which may be just the motivation you need to keep up with your fitness regime.

  • Challenge yourself: Set an exercise goal — such as doing yoga five days per week or beating your best 5K time — and make a plan to work toward achieving it.

  • Tackle calorie-burning chores: Chores such as mowing the lawn, working in the garden, washing the car, or cleaning out the garage provide excellent opportunities to build muscles and burn calories. In addition to the sense of accomplishment you will feel after your workout, completing a household task will yield even more feel-good benefits.

The bottom line: Although it may take some effort to create and adjust to new fitness routines, regular physical activity can help you optimize your health and well-being during the coronavirus pandemic.

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