In these unprecedented times, many of us are struggling to find ways to keep our families healthy and active.
There's no question that most of us have seen life as we know it changed in dramatic ways in the last few weeks. Things we once took for granted, such as going to a gym, are now frowned upon or forbidden throughout the country.
At this point, most people understand the CDC's recommendations of social distancing and avoiding crowds. These measures are intended to "flatten the curve," or prevent the number of individuals infected with coronavirus from exceeding the capacity of our hospitals and health care facilities and workers.
"Based on what we know about how the virus moves from one person to another, it is recommended to avoid public gatherings and keep a social distance of six feet or more," says Thomas Best, M.D., Ph.D. a professor of orthopedics and family medicine and research director of the University of Miami Sports Medicine Institute. "That, along with advice related to personal care (handwashing, not touching your face), has created concern about exercising in gyms, where hundreds of people are in and out every day."
How social distancing affects your physical health
In practical terms, the reality of these government recommendations is that many of us are spending the majority of our time at home. And when you're normally a healthy, physically active individual, this can pose some real challenges both to you and your family.
"The coronavirus pandemic can make it challenging to maintain a physically active lifestyle," says Dr. Best. "COVID-19 is spread by someone sneezing or coughing into the air or onto a surface, and then the virus enters and infects a new person through their mouth, nose, or eyes."
Despite the new limitations, however, there is still quite a bit that you and your family can do to stay healthy and active. In fact, you may actually find that you have more time to do so now than ever before.
"For all of us, young and old, regular physical activity is important for staying healthy!" says Dr. Best. "Compared to just sitting around most of the time, moderate-intensity physical activity is associated with better immune function. Regular physical activity can help reduce your feelings of stress and anxiety, which many of us may be feeling in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic."
Top exercises during the pandemic
Fortunately, one place that you're still allowed to go is outside in nature. Dr. Best notes that this can be key for keeping your family healthy and active. "Spending time in nature may enhance immune function," he says.
He recommends the following outdoor activities for physical and mental health:
- Walking or jogging
- Bike rides
- Gardening and yard work
- Games with your family
To keep you and your family safe during outdoor activity, Carolyn Marie Kienstra, MD, a pediatric sports medicine specialist with the Sports Medicine Institute, has some advice to offer. "You should find workout activities that comply with social distancing guidelines. It's okay to work out with a family member but avoid working out in groups. Avoid over-exertion or overdoing something that you have not tried before or done in a long time to reduce the risk of injury."
Excellent indoor activities
If you're more of a gym rat than an outdoor enthusiast, then there's no question that the current restriction may pose some challenges for you. Dr. Best has the following suggestions:
- Rely on strength training apps or videos to guide your at-home workouts.
- Do a daily yoga or deep breathing routine to help with health and anxiety.
- Use a chair to do sets of squats or sit-to-stands.
- Use the wall, the kitchen counter, or the floor for push-ups.
- Get your stair climbing in on your actual stairs.
While it may not be the same as your full-featured gym, Dr. Kienstra adds that there may be more offerings at home than you realize. "Many gyms are offering free virtual classes that you can do from your home," she says. "Aerobic and dances classes and things like Pilates and yoga can be done with minimal equipment."
Other ways to promote mental and physical health
In the weeks ahead, finding ways for our families to stay healthy and physically active is going to be critical for getting through this pandemic. "There is a great deal of mental health research that shows that even a small amount of daily exercise can do wonders for a person's mental health," says Dr. Best. "Particularly cardiovascular exercise, that seems to be helpful for us both in terms of reducing stress as well as treating and preventing major mental illness like major depressive disorder."
The other critical component of your physical health, of course, is what you're putting in your body in your time at home. "You can keep your body, including your immune system, healthy by eating a healthy diet," says Dr. Kienstra. "There are still plenty of fruits and vegetables available at the grocery stores. You can also consider frozen options to limit your trips to the store. Use your time at home to try out a new recipe or try a fruit or vegetable you have never tried before."
Of course, taking care of your family's mental health is also a key consideration in these challenging times. "Take some time each day to do something you enjoy," says Dr. Kienstra. "Keep yourself informed but turn off or put away the news if you are feeling overwhelmed. If you are concerned that your mental health is more than you can handle alone, many psychologists and psychiatrists are offering telehealth services."
We're all in this together
As a country and a society, we are all facing a lot of uncertainty. Nobody is exactly sure when things are going to return to normal, and we are all in uncharted territory, figuring things out together. This is why the experts recommend focusing on what you can control, which is the health of your body, mind, and immune system.
"One of the biggest challenges, depending upon your personality, is the social distancing aspect of COVID-19," says Dr. Best. "A second major challenge is the uncertainty of things such as when will I return to work, and when can I go back to the gym. Keeping in mind the importance of daily physical activity, proper nutrition and sleep should go a long way to overcoming all that COVID-19 brings with it."
Wyatt Myers is a contributing writer for UMiami Health News.
Learn in-home exercises from UHealth Fitness's Instagram.
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