Jun 2, 2020
Springing into fitness, safely
Our routines and options for fitness have changed this spring, with gyms closed and the need to physically distance even outdoors as the weather turns warm and inviting. In-person group classes and fun runs aren’t possible right now.
But I am finding some silver linings.
One I’ve noticed is that the pandemic is creating an opportunity for us to change our attitude about exercise—for the better, I hope.
Before, many of us exercised for aesthetic reasons—to lose weight and “look” better. Now, I hope we will view exercise as a way to make ourselves “feel” healthier, happier and stronger.
Before, many of us went hard, pushed our bodies to the limit and forced ourselves to go to the gym. Now, I hope we will view exercise not as punishment but as a way to celebrate our body and our health.
After all, studies have shown that exercise not only helps us physically, but it can help us gain clarity and improve our emotional health, build social connections, lower our stress levels and even boost our immune system.
Here are some options for staying active and tips for staying safe:
- Follow public health guidelines. Of course, if you are going to exercise in public, priority No. 1 is following guidelines such as wearing a face covering and maintaining a distance of six feet from others to keep yourself—and everyone around you—safe. This virus spreads through respiratory droplets, and breathing fast and hard during exercise propels those droplets farther.
- Many local road and bike races are moving online, including the Esplanade Virtual 5K, presented by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, which starts today and continues all week. Boston’s Esplanade is one of our state’s beautiful parks that has allowed us to walk, bike, run, and breathe fresh air over the past several months, and this 5K offers a way to donate and support the park. You can run or walk a 5K anywhere in the world any time this week, capture your time, and submit it.
- Take an online class. One great benefit of our current challenging circumstances is the wide variety of online classes that have become available – and with a smartphone, you can enjoy them in a park or a backyard as well as indoors. The city of Boston has turned its annual Boston Parks Summer Fitness Series, sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, into an online series, with offerings ranging from chair yoga to high-intensity interval training to line dancing. Searching “free fitness classes” online can help you find some other great options from gyms, yoga studios, fitness device companies and others.
- Get social. Exercising is a great way to establish and maintain social connections, which are especially important for all of us now. Switch your camera on during virtual workouts to get some “facetime” with other participants. See if your employer is organizing any wellness challenges, and sign up with coworkers. And if you have kids, consider structuring your family time around getting active, including bringing recess to your home -- think Four-Square, hopscotch, jump rope and tag in your yard.
- Go wild. Being in nature has its own health benefits. Gardening and yard work are great ways to stay active and feel a sense of accomplishment. Hiking in nature is a great option, too. Make sure to look up trails before you go to ensure they’re open, see if there are any new guidelines and learn about the terrain.
- Sneak movement into your day. Many of us are doing a lot more sitting these days—whether in front of the TV watching the news or in front of a computer while working from home. It’s important that we get up from our seated posture every hour or so (I set a timer to remind myself!) and move around or do some quick stretches (my colleague, Nicole Ferraro, included some great stretching routines in her most recent column). I like to sneak movement in by using the bathroom on the second floor of my home so I get some stairs in.
- Focus on what you can do, not on what you should do. Right now, I am hearing a lot of “shoulds.” I “should” go for a run, I “should” start that new online fitness class, etc.
Instead of thinking about what you should do, think about what you can physically and emotionally handle right now.
I believe that now is not the right time to “go hard” at your fitness goals. Instead, accept that your workouts may look different for a while—you may find you’re taking more walks around your neighborhood and doing more gentle yoga as opposed to doing high-intensity cardio and strength training sessions. Do your best to incorporate any amount of movement into your day, and consider it a win.
- Develop a new routine. I’m a big fan of scheduling exercise time, and I encourage my clients to do that now if they can. Try to be realistic about what will work for you. Maybe you decide to take a short walk around the block in the middle of the day or do 10 minutes of yoga and then schedule another activity at the end of the day during what would normally be your commute. Taking this time for yourself will help you take care of everything else in your life.
- Be prepared. With temperatures rising and many of us heading outside, make sure you are prepared for the season. That includes wearing the right clothing, drinking plenty of water, and making sure you apply sunscreen and bug spray.
I often tell my clients that exercise is a learned skill. Because of that, you may not get it right all the time, and that’s okay—you’re not doomed if you miss a workout.
Right now, there are so many stressors in our lives. Exercise should not be one of them. Instead, I hope you view physical activity as an opportunity for growth, strength, health, connection and even healing.
In this time of overwhelming and prolonged stress, exercise may just be one of the best medicines we have.
Nicole Pizzi was interviewed by Rachel Coppola for this column.
Nicole is a Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts health engagement strategist as well as a fitness trainer. Have a question about wellness that you would like us to address in a column? Contact us here!
Did you find this article informative?
All Coverage content can be reprinted for free.
Read more here.
PHOTOS BY NICOLAUS CZARNECKI