Turn the staircase in your house into an at-home gym, for starters.
woman working out at home
Credit: Getty / Grace Cary

As you continue to self-isolate and practice social distancing to curb the spread of coronavirus throughout your community, you're likely wondering if there are any parts of "normal" life you can continue to participate in. This is especially true if you're active, since exercise plays an important role in maintaining our mental health, in addition to providing obvious physical benefits. There's some good news: Walking and running outdoors are still on the table—government officials encourage Americans to get outside at least once a day, so long as they're maintaining a responsible distance from others.

But what if you're uncomfortable going outside or want to minimize your risk of exposure as much as possible to protect those around you? We spoke to a doctor and several fitness experts about creative ways to get those steps in, indoors or out.

Remember that running outside is safe if you take the proper precautions.

Dr. Jen Caudle, a family physician and Associate Professor at Rowan University, recommends getting some fresh air daily—you just have to be aware of your surroundings. "You can be outside safely during the coronavirus pandemic," explains Dr. Caudle. "What you have to do is avoid groups and be at least six feet away from anyone else. So, you still have to be practicing social distancing, but you can be outside." You should, however, avoid touching things like benches or buttons at crosswalks.

Change out of your clothes when you return home.

Dr. Caudle asks her patients to remember how COVID-19 is most commonly transmitted: "Through person-to-person contact and the spread of respiratory droplets between them," which is why you should avoid other people and abstain from touching anything while outside. And while clothing is "not suspected to be a main form of transmission," Dr. Caudle says, "as a physician, I don't think it's a bad idea [to immediately change out of your workout clothes]. I change out my clothes when I get home, too."

We all have a heightened sense of cleanliness right now, which is a good thing and should continue. "Think about your general cleanliness anyway, and all the time. I want people to apply those same principles to all aspects of their indoor life," she adds. For these reasons, Holly Smith, an ACSM and NASM certified trainer and Assistant Director of Fitness and Aquatics at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, recommends "immediately washing anything you wore outside and disinfecting anything you may have brought with you: phone, water bottle, keys, headphones, etc." Personal trainer Matt Wilhite asks those exercising outdoors to adopt a new outlook to keep themselves and others safer: "Working out outside right now should feel like a privilege, and with that privilege comes personal responsibility to clean yourself up when you come back home."

Take plenty of walks outside while social distancing, too.

"We are no longer commuting to work, and not leaving the house as often. This means fewer steps, and less activity happening in our daily lives," says Josh Bonhotal, MS, CSCS, and the Vice President of the training app Future.fit. "Making up for this reduction in activity by getting outside for regular walks is a great starting point." You can make things more challenging, he says, by "running fast for 30 seconds, followed by walking for 30 seconds. Do two sets of 10 runs with two minutes in between."

Masiel Encarnación, a health and fitness coach, emphasizes the importance of safely getting fresh air while exercising, even for a short period of time. "Take a walk around the block, at the park, or somewhere in which you can still practice social distancing but also be in touch with nature. It can boost your mental health and energy." Additionally, Sonya Robinson, a NASM certified trainer, suggests exploring features of your neighborhood that can improve your workout—so long as you remain at least six feet away from any other person. "Find a track to run some timed distance runs or sprints. Jumping rope, hiking, or rollerblading are some good options depending on where you live," she says.

Focus on exercises that can be done indoors with no equipment.

If you feel safer staying indoors, Wilhite recommends that you focus on foundational movements, which include exercises like squats and push-ups. "Without any weight, [these movements] can still achieve the same amount of difficulty by just controlling the amount of reps that you do, the tempo at which you do them, or even the amount of time you're able to do those movements for," he says.

Smith explains that these kinds of "bodyweight exercises" are crucial when outdoor cardio isn't a safe option. She suggests incorporating moves like "squats, planks, push-ups, wall sits, lunge variations, and dips as intentional movements two to three days a week." And there's an easy way to intensify these kinds of exercises, says Bonhotal. "Even subtle transitions—like going back and forth from one exercise done on the ground, to the next one standing—make a big difference in increasing your heart rate response."

Use household items to make indoor exercises more challenging.

If gym closures mean you're unable to access certain kinds of weighted equipment, Smith suggests "using household items to your advantage. Cans of food, water bottles, books, or laundry detergent jugs, for example, are a creative substitution for dumbbells." Wilhite says he has even carried an unopened printer box in place of weights while working out.

Beyond makeshift weights, Robinson suggests looking to your immediate surroundings to create a kind of home gym. "Want to do some sprints?" she asks. "If you live in a two story [building], condo, or apartment with stairs, use them!"

Turn to social media for Instagram Live workouts.

With the shutdown of gyms and studios, many fitness facilities are offering free or low-cost workouts via Instagram Live. LA Unbound Dance Company compiles a daily list of these dance classes on their Instagram, and Robinson and Encarnación both demonstrate workouts on their own pages, as well. If Zumba, yoga, or pilates are more your speed, a quick online search will provide a roster of virtual classes.

Cleaning and gardening count as exercise, too.

"Simply move more," says Elliot Upton, personal trainer and Head of LiveUP Online Coaching. "This is the simplest and most effective way you can stay fit and healthy. You can increase your energy expenditure dramatically just through NEAT (Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis)—activities that aren't formal exercise but burn calories, such as gardening, household chores, and walking the dog. Even if you can walk up and down the stairs and around the house while listening to a radio, it is better than remaining sedentary."


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