For many of you, cabin fever is likely in full force and you’re looking for ways to stay physically and emotionally healthy during social isolation. You already caught up on all the binge-worthy shows you had previously been looking forward to (e.g. Ozark, The Witcher, Stranger Things, etc.) and may have even completed ones you never thought you would actually watch (e.g. Love is Blind). For those of you with kids, you may have lost count of the number of times you have sat through Frozen 2.
These challenging times have resulted in many different approaches to getting through the day. Aside from working, which many are now doing from home, and binge-watching TV, we have time-honored traditions such as reading for pleasure, tweeting your frustrations, and hiding from your kids. Unfortunately, one tradition that is often neglected and can have a dramatic impact both physically and mentally is exercise.
At this point, some of you may be on the verge of closing this blog feeling disappointed that it was tied back to exercise. I ask you to stay with me for two reasons.
1) I will explain how exercise truly can help you to feel better both mentally and physically during social isolation (backed up by actual science).
2) I will show you a wealth of exercise options you can complete in your home without the need for equipment. I’ll even throw in bonus exercises that involve using your kids as resistance!
BENEFITS OF EXERCISE
Let’s start with the reasons why we would benefit from exercise. If you reflect on the past couple of weeks, it is likely some or all of the following are true: you are more sedentary, eating less than optimal (fewer fresh foods, more processed and frozen foods), more stressed or worried than usual, and experiencing poorer sleep quality. These all have significant negative impacts on our body physically (endurance, strength, power) and mentally (anxiety, mood, mental energy). Quick disclaimer, I am not a physician or a psychologist. I will touch on some benefits exercise can provide with respect to anxiety and mood, these are not meant to be exhaustive treatments, however. If you are experiencing significant mood alterations or anxiety, I encourage you to seek the advice of a clinician specifically trained in this area. Now, as for what I can tell you, the scientific literature is quite clear that exercise has many physical and mental benefits.
- Improve strength, power, and endurance or at least minimize the reduction of them 1
- Promote tissue repair and injury recovery 2
- Improved cardiovascular capacity 3
- Reduce anxiety sensitivity by reliably producing similar physiological responses as experienced with high anxious states (increased heart rate) but without the negative, anxious feelings 4, 5
- Release hormones that can reduce pain and have an antidepressant effect 6
- Create a sense of accomplishment and pleasure 5
- Enhance cognitive functioning for greater focus, attention, and learning 7
One of the keys here is to ensure that the exercise frequency and duration is sufficient. Typical research recommendations fall in the range of 3-5 sessions per week for 45-60 minutes. If performing high intensity interval training, the duration can certainly be shorter. The intensity can be measured with various methods (rate of perceived exertion, heart rate, % of 1 rep max, reps in reserve) and prescribed by a professional who understands your fitness level, medical history, and goals (e.g. a physical therapist). You want the exercise to be challenging to you. This is where many of you may be wondering how to achieve that challenge and all the lovely benefits that follow when you lack a home gym. Have no fear, I have many options for you.
TYPES OF EXERCISE YOU CAN DO IN YOUR HOME
Prepare to be blown away by all the possibilities you have for exercising at home. The goal is to provide a foundation for you to develop an exercise plan with options and to provide ideas for additional types of exercises. I will provide options in 5 categories: Calisthenics, Plyometrics, Isometrics, unilateral exercises, and using your children.
- Calisthenics: Think PE class or boot camps in the local park. These exercises use large muscle groups and involve body weight for resistance. You will have more options to choose from if you have the equipment (pull-up bar, suspension trainer such as TRX, or dip/parallel bars) but there’s still plenty you can do without equipment.
- Examples: pushups (standard/shoulder width, wide, narrow, staggered, walking/spiderman, plyo/clapping, wall, feet elevated, etc.), squats, leg raises, sit-ups
- Plyometrics: These exercises are great for developing power. While jumping rope is technically considered plyometrics, it predominantly works on endurance since it is low effort jumping over a long duration. To improve your power, plyometrics should be at or near-maximum effort with short-duration activity and long rest breaks (e.g. 6 maximum effort jumps with a 2-minute rest break).
- Examples: Jump squats, split squat jumps, lateral jumps, box/couch/super sturdy chair that is up against the wall jumps.
- Isometrics: This essentially means holding a resisted movement in place. These are a great way to manipulate your exercises to improve endurance, work on motor control, and reduce pain.
- Examples: Planks (on hands, on elbows, feet elevated), squat holds or wall sits, literally any exercise but pause at some point during the repetition and hold the position until fatigue
- Unilateral exercises: Unilateral exercises work one of your extremities at a time and are a great way to uncover areas you may have deficits that are masked when you work bilaterally.
- Examples: Single leg sit to stand, single leg bridge, single-leg hip thruster, single-leg calf raises, single-arm overhead press with a household object (such as a small lamp or gallon jug), single-leg step-ups (stairs)
- Using your kids: This doesn’t apply to everyone but you may be able to use a pet for some of these exercises as well.
- Examples: Thrusters (i.e. throw your child in the air repeatedly, add squats for increased intensity), mobility work (i.e. sitting on little kid chairs, crawling through their play tunnels, playing on the floor), wind sprints (i.e. chasing your children or pets), front squats (holding child in front of you), back squats (holding child on shoulder or your back), bear crawls (with a child holding onto your back), weighted pushups (again, child on back)
At the end of the day, the idea is to move and find creative ways to make it both engaging and challenging. Some of these exercises may make immediate sense while you may need to look others up. Some may also be far too difficult and may not be a goal to aim for. I hope they provide some ideas and insight into ways to get creative while you’re isolated at home. If you own exercise equipment you have even more variety. You can also use many household items or purchase/borrow some basic equipment that can be used for a variety of exercises (e.g. resistance bands).