Keeping Active During Lockdown 3.0
Coronavirus and the subsequent lockdowns have impacted our lives in the United Kingdom (UK) greatly, none less than our ability to exercise. With the average step-count down by 50% since the start of the pandemic (Knight, 2020) and exercise facilities such as gyms closed, it is evident that many people might be lacking the motivation or perhaps the ‘know-how’ to exercise during the global pandemic.
Exercise and physical activity are vital not only for our physical health but also for our mental health – something that we must look after. Exercise is observed to impact how we feel, how we respond to stress, and how we sleep (Reed & Ones, 2006), and therefore has an important role in our well-being. Exercise can improve our quality of sleep, which can help us to feel more awake and refreshed in the morning, ready to seize the day. Research demonstrates that short bursts of exercise in the morning or afternoon helps to regulate our sleep patterns by adjusting our core body temperature and energy expenditure (Kovacevic et al., 2018; Rubio-Arias et al., 2017), giving us a better quality of sleep. Similarly, acute exercise is also known to cause the release of endorphins and various neurotransmitters that can help improve our mood. One such neurotransmitter is a chemical known as serotonin. For years serotonin has been implicated in the anti-depressant and anxiolytic action of exercise and there is a multitude of studies that demonstrate exercise is associated with a reduction in depressive symptoms (see Carter et al., 2016 and Cooney et al., 2014 for reviews). Previous work has indicated that that chronic exercise can be just as effective as anti-depressant medication in humans (Babyak et al., 2000). In addition, exercise is observed to help combat how we react to stress. It is believed that short sessions of exercise, for example, 30-minutes of running or walking is actually able to alter how our brains respond to acute stressors by regulating the release of cortisol through activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis (Zschucke et al., 2015). These are just a *few *key benefits of exercising. Therefore, during unprecedented and stressful times such as these, we should attempt to maintain active and engage in physical activity.
Despite the restrictions, there are still several ways you can keep active during the pandemic and keep safe:
1. Go outside
We are still allowed outside for one daily exercise routine – take this opportunity! Getting outside for a walk, jog, or run is a great way to clear your mind, raise your heart rate, and get your steps in. If you’re new to running you might like to download the Couch to 5K app; a 9-week program designed for beginners to gradually build up their running ability so they can run 5 kilometers (Km) without stopping. If you’re an avid runner but lacking motivation, setting a target may help you to regain your love for running. For example, you could set yourself a target personal best for a 5Km or 10Km, perhaps even set yourself a goal of running a marathon. Alternatively, if you don’t like walking or running, you could try cycling. The National Cycle Network offers a variety of different routes across the UK for you to safely ride outside. Strava is a great app to keep track of your activity goals and engage with others in your community.
Cardiovascular exercises such as walk, jogging, running, and cycling do not have to be fear-inducing feats of speed and endurance. There is great value in exercising at a steady intensity for prolonged periods of time. For many great endurance athletes, low heart rate training is at the core of their training programs. If you do not have a smart/fitness watch to track your heart rate (Zone 2 for optimum aerobic training) you can simply maintain a steady pace that would allow you to only breath through your nose or hold a conversation comfortably. You may have to swallow your pride (I know I have) as people run, jog, and maybe even walk past you, but you will see the benefits in the long run (pun very much intended). So, on your next run or jog, why not give it a go and see how you feel.
2. Bring the gym home to you
For a lot of exercises, you often don’t need any equipment! Using your body weight can still allow for an effective workout. Squats, press-ups, planks, climbers, lunges, and many other exercises can all be done with just your bodyweight, whilst still improving your cardiovascular endurance and muscle strength. If, however, you feel you need equipment, everyday household objects can soon become fitness tools. Tins of food or filled water bottles can become dumbbells, chairs can be used for dips and elevated push-ups, or socks on a slippery floor can be used to perform a range of exercises that target different muscles. Furthermore, resistance bands can be a great option for strength exercises at home. They can be inexpensive, provide great muscle stimulus, are versatile, easy to store, and can reproduce that feeling following the use of a resistance machine at the gym.
For those that believe you cannot gain strength and build muscle without a gym membership, I encourage you to look at gymnasts and calisthenic athletes. These individuals can execute incredible feats of strength that can often be trained from the comfort of your own home. Exercises that are regularly displayed in a gymnastic floor routine, such as the planche, L/V-sit, and handstand variations can all be trained with little to no equipment at all. If you want to advance your training further, an inexpensive door-frame pull-up bar will allow you to train front and back lever exercise variations that are commonly seen in gymnastic ring routines. This may all sound scary and too advanced, but the above-mentioned exercises and the fundamentals of gymnastics are all built on simple bodyweight training.
If you are interested in learning more there are some great YouTube channels dedicated to bodyweight and calisthenics training:
- School Of Calisthenics
- The Bodyweight Warrior
- Calisthenics Movement (Calimove)
- GMB Fitness
Turn that speaker UP and have a boogie! Create a fast-paced playlist filled with your favourite music and have a dance with yourself, your partner, your children, or anyone you live with. Dancing is a great aerobic activity that is enjoyable for all and can be done anywhere.
The holistic health benefits of yoga have been well documented. Rolling out your mat and preparing your yoga blocks (not just me I hope) can improve your strength, flexibility, mindfulness and endurance. Its benefits can transcend the mat to improving mental health, breathing, and that all-important night’s sleep. It is one of the most accessible activities you can do at home with an abundance of resources available. Here are some of our favourites:
- Yoga with Adrienne (YouTube) – the largest free yoga resource on Youtube (maybe even the internet).
- Breathe and Flow (YouTube) – yoga, meditation, and fitness workouts.
- Downward Dog App – Over 60,000 combinations of poses with a high level of customisation all for only £11.99 for the year (75% January offer so hurry - £49.99 per year after).
- AloMoves – the most expensive option on our list at $99 for the year (rising to $199) but it provides classes and programs from some of the leading yogi’s in the world.
Just a quick mention to meditation and mindfulness. Although this is a blog all about keeping active, our mental health is integral to staying healthy and active. Yoga is a fantastic steppingstone into starting meditation or mindfulness practice. If you want to advance your mindfulness or mediative practice further the Headspace app is a fantastic resource to guide you on this journey.
5. Walk instead of drive
This may seem like an obvious one, but those trips to your local shop could be done on foot. If you live close to a shop and are just popping out to fetch some essentials consider walking there instead of driving. Not only will this help to get you moving, but is also good for the environment.
6. Online workouts
Ranging from HIIT to yoga, strength training to dance-based workouts, a simple search on YouTube can unlock a huge array of online, real-time workouts available for you to do at your convenience. Here are just a few channels that might work for you:
- MadFit - posts real-time workouts for viewers to get moving and reach their fitness goals; these include fully-body workouts, ab workouts, and cardio workouts. She also caters for those who may live in a flat or apartment, with apartment-friendly workouts.
- POPSUGAR Fitness - a YouTube platform with over 5.45 million subscribers, which offers fresh fitness tutorials, workouts, and exercises for you to do at home alongside fitness experts and Hollywood’s celebrity trainers.
- The Body Coach - Joe Wicks, also known as the body coach, posts weekly home workouts to help you get, stronger, healthier, and happier on his YouTube TV channel. He also posts PE classes so that children can keep fit during the lockdown – parents join in if you can!
- HAS Fit - if you’re more into your strength training, HAS Fit is a great YouTube channel that offers many different workouts by each body part, i.e. back, biceps, or shoulders, and also has low impact workouts.
In addition to free-online workouts, there are many different fitness-platforms that offer subscription-based programmes. Here are just a few:
- Courtney Black App – available on Android and Apple Devices. Paying for a subscription of £15.99 per month gives you access to both 100s of real-time workouts, ranging from 10 minutes to 60 minutes, and personalised workout plans, if you’re not a fan of real-time workouts. You also get access to a variety of healthy recipes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner to help fight that ‘lockdown dinner idea’ fatigue.
- Les Mills on Demand – paying £11.95 for a monthly subscription allows you to enjoy the ‘Les Mills’ experience in the comfort and convenience of your home with access to over 1000 workouts from popular Les Mills programs; such as Body Combat or Les Mills Grit.
- Peloton App – available on Android and Apple Devices. Paying £12.99 a month gives you access to a Peloton Digital Membership, where you can work out on any equipment or none at all with 10+ workout types streaming on-demand.
These are just a few ideas to keep you moving and staying active during the pandemic.