Without question, our lives and our world are experiencing unusual stress with the COVID-19 pandemic, precautions and fallout.
Current stressors include following government regulations, working from home, being furloughed, schooling children at home, or finishing school via distance learning. These adjustments are challenge enough, but many are adopting additional precautions in an effort to stay healthy. Habits such as washing hands, wearing mask and gloves, and minimizing travel have become second nature. Perhaps one of the best habits for reducing stress, staying healthy and improving overall wellness has been overlooked.
Now, more than ever, establishing a daily exercise routine is vital for managing physical and mental health. We may still have restrictions and inconveniences to overcome but implementing an effective exercise routine can bring significant and immediate benefit.
Why is exercise important right now?
Benefits of routine exercise are both immediate and long term. Here are a few immediate benefits.
- Boost and improve immune system function
- Improve mood
- Reduce stress and anxiety
- Improve sleep quality
In fact, these benefits are closely linked. Research shows immune function can be affected by emotions, quality of sleep and stress management. Improving one or more of these areas has a positive impact on the others.
The fallout of COVID-19 has many coping with added burdens such as isolation, financial strain, depression and other mental illnesses. Addressing areas of wellness like sleep, anxiety and immune responses is critical to positive outcomes. Using exercise to stimulate and regulate mental and physical health truly can provide timely help.
Why is exercise important moving forward?
While we adjust current habits to prevent illness today, routine exercise can play an important role in preventing illnesses and improving the body’s response to illness down the road.
Long-term benefits of routine exercise help prevent and lower the risk for the following diseases and conditions:
- Heart disease
- Type 2 diabetes
- Various cancers (colon, bladder, breast, endometrium, esophagus, kidney, lung and stomach)
- Dementia (including Alzheimer’s disease)
Sadly, individuals with compromised health due to chronic diseases have faced greater risk and more severe complications with COVID-19. Minimizing and preventing these diseases should be a priority for all individuals. Regular exercise directly improves our ability to fight new immune threats by reducing underlying issues.
How much physical activity is needed?
Baseline exercise requirements by the National Physical Activity Guidelines help detail what our routine exercise should look like. The general rule of thumb is a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise and two days of resistance training per week for an average adult. Daily, an adult should engage in 30 minutes of aerobic exercise. Children ages 17 and younger need approximately 60 minutes of physical activity and play per day.
However, a 30 minute-block of time is not always required. Research has shown that several short but effective sessions that total 30 minutes are just as effective. For many, 10- to 15-minute sessions repeated throughout the day may be more practical and equally beneficial.
What kind of physical activity is needed?
Moderate aerobic exercise can be simple and suited to the environment.
Outdoor aerobic activities include:
- Brisk walking
Indoor aerobic activities include:
- Walking stairs up and down
- Marching in-place or around the home
- Jumping rope
Likewise, resistance training can be designed around each person’s resources.
Resistance training activities include:
- Leg raises
The examples above can be modified to suit an individual’s abilities. For example, using a chair to perform squats and using a wall or counter to perform pushups are all acceptable alternatives.
Fortunately, numerous exercise plans and suggestions have been published by reputable health and wellness organizations. Customized plans, in-home plans and even activities for children can be found using the links below.
Resources for all ages
- Cooper Institute has free videos with tips to help you get active on their YouTube channel
- National Center for Health, Physical Activity and Disability features inclusive videos that people with disabilities can do at home
- National Academy of Sports Medicine shares nine bodyweight exercises you can do without equipment
Resources for youth
- ACE Fitness gives instructions for creating a simple obstacle course for kids
- American Heart Association shares 25 Ways to Get Moving at Home for kids
- SHAPE America has instructions for creating a Multi-Game Fitness Card Deck with games for kids of all ages
The New Normal
These unusual times have created a “new normal” for many of us. New guidelines, new adjustments, even new routines. Whether we shake up the old exercise routine or implement a new exercise routine, the opportunity to benefit physically and mentally cannot be undersold. Just as we prepare ourselves for spiritual threats and attacks through daily time with God, preparing to withstand our new and future health threats with daily exercise may be the best kind of “new normal” yet.