Two At-Home Workouts to Stay Fit During Coronavirus

Photo: Pixabay/Keifit

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EEarlier this year, several health experts told me exercise should actually be prescribed to make Americans healthier, both physically and mentally. One of them, Scott Lear, PhD, a professor in health sciences at Simon Fraser University in Canada, said, “If it was a pill, exercise would be a trillion-dollar moneymaker prescribed to everyone.”

Who couldn’t use such a prescription right now?

As we’re cooped up at home, helping to flatten the curve by practicing social distancing, we need physical activity to maintain physical and mental well-being. Fortunately, there are plenty of simple and practical ways to do this while staying out of the gym to avoid the virus and slow the rate of COVID-19’s spread.

Exercise is, in fact, a way to double down on your well-being. Harvard researchers say the human immune system functions better when we eat well, sleep well, and exercise — three highly interrelated lifestyle factors. Poor sleep is linked to a host of disease risks, whereas sleeping well can help with the physical energy and mental motivation to exercise, and exercise is one of many ways to promote a good night’s sleep.

One very basic move with lots of benefits is push-ups. They’re a very effective way to strengthen not just your arms and chest but core muscles in the back and stomach. Being able to do push-ups has even been linked to disease prevention. A study last year of firefighters found those who could do 40 or more push-ups in a row had a 96% reduced risk of cardiovascular disease over a 10-year period compared to other firefighters who couldn’t do 10. That’s not proof that push-ups prevent disease, but it suggests that being in shape does. (And yes, it makes you wonder about some of those firefighters.)

There are of course myriad other exercises beyond the push-up that can be done without equipment.

I asked Kelli Calabrese, an exercise physiologist, nutrition expert, and wellness coach, to recommend whole-body workouts to improve strength and aerobic endurance, without needing any special equipment. Each exercise is linked to an explainer so you can see how it’s done properly.

Whatever exercise you do — don’t let your fitness level fall during this pandemic. Amid a virus outbreak, we need healthy bodies more than ever.

Whole-body, equipment-free workout: 12 minutes

The benefits of this first one, requiring no equipment, include “increasing heart rate, improving circulation, stimulating mental focus, boosting metabolism and fat burning, increasing the afterburn, improved muscle and cardiovascular endurance and stretching, as well as a strengthening benefit for beginners,” Calabrese says.

Warm-up: Two minutes, walking up and down stairs or stepping up and down on a single step with five-pound weights in each hand (soup cans or bags of rocks could work)

Exercises: 20 reps each:
Split squats (one leg in front of the other)
Push-ups (alternatively: on your knees)
Dips (use a chair)
Plank while tapping alternate knees to floor
Bicycle crunch
Straight-leg sit-ups
Mountain climbers (like lunges from a plank position)

Cool-down: Two minutes of active stretching, including downward dog to child’s pose, and/or alternating leg lunges with overhead reach-behind

Moderate workout with dumbbells: 15 minutes

Work the large muscle groups in a “total-body workout will leave the heart pounding while you incinerate fat,” Calabrese says of this prescription, which needs only a set of light dumbbells and a jump rope.

Warm-up: Two minutes, starting with jump rope finishing with jump squats

Exercises: 20 reps each:
Stationary lunges with dumbbell biceps curls
Walking lunges with overhead dumbbell press
Deadlifts with dumbbells
Reverse fly with knees bent
Chest press with legs elevated
Wall squats (with or without a ball) with front arm raise
Sumo squat with bicep curls
Tricep push-ups
Jackknife crunch
Rotating planks

Cool-down: Two minutes doing the traveling inchworm and plank rotate and reach

Bottom line: Do something

To achieve and maintain good health, the U.S. government guidelines say to get at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity a week, which equates to 30 minutes a day over five days, or at least 75 minutes of vigorous exercise. And while that sounds like a lot if you hunker down at home without workout equipment, doing something is still better than doing nothing.

Even simple breathing exercises, which can be done anywhere, can reduce stress and have been shown to have physical health benefits. There’s also evidence that yoga, which employs breathing techniques as well as movement and stretching, can help manage stress and anxiety and “improve general wellness,” according to the U.S. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.

Whatever exercise you do — don’t let your fitness level fall during this pandemic. Amid a virus outbreak, we need healthy bodies more than ever.

The coronavirus outbreak is rapidly evolving. To stay informed, check the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as your local health department for updates. If you’re feeling emotionally overwhelmed, reach out to the Crisis Text Line.

Explainer of things, independent health and science journalist, author, former editor-in-chief of LiveScience and Space dot com.

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