Exercise - a silver lining in the otherwise dark cloud of lockdown
For those of us who struggle to find a consistent place for health and fitness in our lives, we have to take advantage of any advantage or opportunity that life may present. As unlikely as it may seem, the Coronavirus lockdown has been a great enabler for getting my fitness on track.
Covid-19 demanded the temporary closure of gyms, swimming pools and leisure centres the world over. Consequently, in the first wave of the virus, sales of home exercise equipment increased by 170%, to the extent that you couldn't find so much as a kettlebell or a skipping rope to buy online.
Gyms are now taking tentative steps to re-open (again). It seems that the flexibility to just lace up your trainers and head in for a workout will be lost, as they implement rigorous and regular cleaning routines, remove and space-out equipment to maintain social distance and appointment booking systems are implemented to keep the numbers of attendees to a manageable level.
Such restrictions would test the devotion of even the most habitual gym-goer towards returning. For some, it will test their resolve and ability to exercise at all.
Others (like me) have found that lockdown and a shift away from being able to exercise in traditional ways and places, has been the prompt that was needed to radically overhaul their health and fitness regimes.
Without wanting to appear too ‘glass half full’ about things, lockdown has had an extremely positive effect upon my wellbeing as a whole. I say this with full acknowledgement of the good fortune for not having succumbed to the virus. Nor have any of my close friends and family.
While the circumstances of my life are much the same as they were before, it’s notable how different my day-to-day life is now, particularly in reference to my health and fitness regime.
I want to share some of the ways this has come about and what the effects and learnings have been in my life as a result.
Exercise feels like a daily necessity (and a privilege)
Pre-lockdown I would start each week with a vague notion of how many times I hoped to take exercise. Since March, I’ve started each day with a personal expectation that the day would feature at least one form of exercise at a minimum. I still take rest-days when I feel they’re necessary, but when I do it’s with a sense of truly having earned them rather than because the calendar says it’s time.
Once we were told by our governments to stay in place, to remain at home and avoid going out wherever possible ‘other than for daily exercise’, it seemed like too good an opportunity to pass up to venture out and do just that.
Living close to open countryside and with a small garden to exercise in when weather has allowed has seemed like a privilege compared to those who’ve been locked down in high-rise apartments with no outdoor space and no freedom to venture outdoors. It’s a privilege too precious to waste.
Aside from favourable logistics, I’ve also felt a keen urge to be in the best health possible so as to insulate myself from catching the virus and to hopefully avoid suffering unduly if I should.
I realise that both of these notions are largely flawed of course. The news is full of cases where otherwise healthy individuals, younger and fitter than me have sadly been taken by the virus. There’s also little evidence that being fit and healthy offers any protection against catching it in the first place. As early as the end of March 2020, it was indicated by experts that those in good health were likely to be in a better position to face the virus if they caught it.
Nonetheless, I figure it can’t help to ensure that I’m in as good health as I can be both for avoidance of Covid-19 and more generally. A daily workout has therefore seemed like the right thing to do on all fronts. In fairness, it always was the right thing to do — the virus has been the final stimulus, necessary to make me see that.
My wife is also diabetic and with the correlation between diabetes and potentially serious side-effects from Covid-19, we both considered it a smart move to be in the best health possible as a couple too.
The other factor of course is that with little to do other than kick around the home it feels more appealing than it ever did to get the heart rate up, to burn off some energy and to feel legitimately tired and ready to sleep at the end of each day.
Lesson Learned: A daily workout is a worthy and necessary part of my plan for each new day — long may it continue to be.
Cost is not a real barrier to exercise
When embarking on a new healthy living regime the cost can seem a barrier to committing or even to getting started. Gym memberships, exercise gear, healthy food and supplements can all seem expenses that are hard to fund or justify when starting out. Money has all-too-often been the reason why past fitness endeavours of my own have failed, even when my motivation was high to begin with.
Right now money feels more plentiful than it did as social commitments have fallen out of the calendar and vacations are gradually being cancelled and refunded. I realise once again that this is a privilege afforded by my work and income remaining stable — a fact for which I’m very grateful.
The result of our gym closing temporarily has been that the monthly subscription fee along with other money saved that would otherwise have been sucked up by our daily lives, has instead been used to buy some basic home exercise equipment.
We haven’t gone wild, and we don’t have the space in our crowded garage to do anything other than store the kit that we pull out and use in our garden (or in our living room if it’s raining). It’s proven possible to do varied and challenging home workouts with just a few basic bits of kit that were available at local supermarkets and online.
A kettlebell, a slam-ball, a skipping rope and a barbell with minimal weight plates have enabled all sorts of exercises to be done from home.
We’ve proven conclusively that there’s no barrier to getting a good workout, with or without equipment. Even if you only have a yourself and a bit of space and time, there’s so much benefit that can be gained through bodyweight exercise alone — at least half of our daily workouts are done with bodyweight alone.
Lesson learned: A lack of money, time, facilities and equipment are not legitimate barriers to getting regular exercise. They may be the basis of excuses, but they’re not barriers.
Guidance and coaching is plentifully available (and often completely free)
It turns out that the internet contains a plentiful supply of guided workout videos that can be accessed for free. Many trainers have adapted their businesses during the coronavirus and have thrived online as a result.
Besides full workouts, you can find extensive videos that show how to safely do most exercises with good form too, all on YouTube and other platforms, published by reputable organisations. It may not be a comprehensive alternative for in-person training but it’s certainly better than floundering, injuring yourself or not getting started as you don’t know how.
We’ve also been lucky that a personal trainer friend of ours (who we trained with regularly in normal life) has been running occasional Zoom classes and an accountability group via WhatsApp. She posts a daily workout for everyone to try, usually made up of 20–30 minutes of exercise that can be done with bodyweight or whatever equipment we have to hand. This too has been done out of the goodness of her heart and will no doubt pay dividends for her (deservedly) as clients flock to her after lockdown is eventually lifted.
Besides the vast array of free content that’s widely available on YouTube and other platforms, we’ve also signed up for an online library of Les Mills online classes. They, like many others offer a free trial to begin with so there’s nothing to stake on getting started.
My wife and I were always keen devotees of Les Mills workouts (Body Pump, Body Attack and the Grit series in particular). We have sufficient equipment now that we can follow online classes at home. The cost per month of such a subscription is around a third of a gym membership for one of us and seems good value.
Lesson Learned: The lack of knowledge or availability of guidance is not a legitimate barrier to getting started in exercise. It can all be accessed online for free, or cheaply.
There’s always running (or walking!)
In addition to bodyweight exercise and weight training, both my wife and I have re-discovered the joy of running.
Cardio exercise plays a big part in my notional goal of being in the best fitness possible at this time. The simplicity of lacing up the runners and getting outside to plod along for a few miles has made running a big part of our lives.
My wife in particular hated running previously. Being able to take her time to ramp up her pace and distance with no real agenda or goal for her training other than to do it for its own sake, has proven an effective means of getting into running. She now heads out routinely for 3 or 4 miles at a time — something I doubt she ever envisaged doing for fun or even being able to do.
Running isn’t the only option though and I appreciate many simply can’t if they have long term injuries or aren’t fit enough to start out running. We’ve both also started walking a lot more than we did for exercise and also for pleasure. I used to start my day with a walk before starting work, and my wife now joins me for this too before kicking off lessons in home-school. We even manage to lure some of our kids along occasionally too for an after-school stroll. Walking alone is proven to be beneficial for your health and if it's all you can manage, that's good enough!
Lesson Learned: Simply getting moving, more regularly is the cornerstone of building a healthy life. Start where you are, and build up from there.
It’s worth repeating that I acknowledge the privilege of:
a) Having avoided the virus thus far, and
b) Being blessed for not having lost my income, or having been unduly affected by the virus to the extent that I can prioritise exercise in my life.
That said, I wouldn’t have predicted that the Coronavirus Lockdown could have had the positive effect that it has upon my overall health, fitness and wellbeing.
I am in the best shape of my life in terms of strength, tone and overall fitness and endurance. My wife is too. As we both approach our mid-forties and with track-records of repeated cycles of boom and bust in our diet and exercise throughout adulthood, it now feels like we’ve established a pattern that will be sustainable. The spectre of the virus has brought with it great opportunities, it seems!
The test will come as life returns to some normality, but the lessons we’ve learned over the last few months all seem to be applicable to the many shades of normality that I’ve known in recent times, and which may come again in future.
I hope you might find some of the same lessons apply in your life towards your health and fitness too. Good luck with it!