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How to stay active during social distancing

No gym? No worries. Here’s how to stay active without breaking the social distancing rules.

The media is currently saturated with COVID-19 information, with everything from government advice, to false news, personal stories, memes, and just overall general panic. Phrases such as social distancing, self-isolation, and quarantine have become part of our everyday vocabulary. Despite all the chaos, one certainty is that we should stay at home as much as possible. 
 
Many companies have implemented remote working methods, and others have frozen employment. We are finding ourselves with an abundance of free time that modern working life doesn't usually offer. While staying in bed, eating snacks and binging Netflix shows may be satisfying to begin with, in the long run, it will take a toll on our mental and physical health. It can be easy to fall into unhealthy patterns of behaviour (1), and you may often find yourself frustrated with the situation and feeling out of control.  
 
Nobody knows how long this government-advised distancing will last, so it is important to stay active in the meantime. Exercise stimulates your body and your brain, producing chemicals such as endorphins, dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin, all of which boost your mood and energy levels. The other holistic benefits of exercise include:  

  • Improved concentration 
  • Enhanced creativity 
  • Reduced stress levels 
  • Lower risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes and high cholesterol  
  • Improved mental health 
  • Lower risk of musculoskeletal disorders 
  • Boosted job performance

But every organised event has been cancelled, gyms and sporting venues have been closed, and everyone is uncertain about the safest procedures for exercise. So, with all these social restrictions, how can we stay active and healthy? We have collated the best tips to help you maintain your wellbeing during this time.  

Stretch in the morning 

Although it’s tempting to have a duvet day or work from your bed, one of the best ways to increase productivity is to get up and start moving. In the morning, spend some time stretching and moving your muscles. It’s quick, easy, beneficial for your body, and relaxing as well. There are plenty of online videos that can guide you through some daily stretches, no matter your capability.  

Get outside every day  

Currently, in the UK, the guidelines state that you can exercise outdoors once a day, staying 2 metres away from others. Try to utilise this time as the fresh air can be very beneficial for productivity. You could go for a run in your local neighbourhood, ideally in the morning when there are fewer people about. If this isn’t feasible, just spend some time in your garden or simply open a window to feel nature on your face, it can be very calming particularly in times of stress. You should aim to keep your vitamin D levels within the normal range, as this helps to boost your mood and immune system. Our Vitamin D Blood Test is a great way to monitor your levels and our doctors will advise you on what to do if your results are low.  

Move around every hour

Generally, staying at home means less movement throughout the day. We’re not able to socialise with co-workers, walk to the cafeteria or access meeting rooms, which means we can spend many hours hunched over a computer. This has a negative impact on our posture, muscles and stress levels. Try to take approximately 250 steps every hour. Most fitness trackers will remind you to move when you have been still for too long, so now may be a good time to invest in one. Our Medichecks’ staff have been running up the stairs, planking, indoor-cycling, mowing the lawn, and doing HIIT workouts throughout the day. Get creative and try to boost your daily step count. Or, if you’re not able to exercise, at least get-up, make a drink and look out the window for a few minutes (3).  

Exercise with pets

On a positive note, our pets are benefiting from this lockdown and enjoying having their owners at home more. Use this situation to spend some quality time with them, it reduces stress hormones and is a great way to keep exercise fun. Currently, there is no evidence that pets can be a source of COVID-19, nor that they can contract it (4), but the virus can live on their fur so good hygiene standards should be maintained. If you are experiencing any coronavirus symptoms, it is best to avoid close contact with your pets. 

Don’t work out too intensely

With this new-found free time, many of us have been hit with a wave of motivation and want to return from lockdown with our ideal summer body. But now is not the time to be starting an intense new exercise regime, particularly if you don’t fully understand what you’re doing. The healthcare system is already overworked and does not need any exercise-related injuries to add to their workload. Try to stick to your current exercise regime and keep it gentle where necessary. 

Try low-intensity exercises

For those with less mobility or less space, exercise can be somewhat challenging during this time. Low to moderate impact activities can be just as effective and beneficial to your health as high impact, and it decreases the risk of harming your muscles. Walking is an easy and free exercise that you can still do while adhering to government guidelines. If you can’t go outside, walk around your house as much as you can, it’s a bonus if you have stairs. The NHS website has some great home-exercise suggestions that can be adjusted depending on your skill level.  

Keep to a routine

Humans thrive off routine, and in these uncertain and stressful times, there is nothing that we need more than normalcy. Even with minor aspects, such as the time you wake up or when you finish work, try to maintain your previous schedule, or adapt it slightly to suit your current situation. The same applies to exercise; as much as you can, keep to your previous exercise routine with just a little more social distancing. 

Find an online workout plan

If you’re stuck for ideas and unsure what to do without a gym, online workout videos could be the answer. YouTube has an abundance of videos and series to help you maintain your fitness while in isolation. There are a variety of activities for different skill levels, whether you’re using body weight or simple exercise equipment. Research which type of activity you would be interested in, for example, aerobic/endurance, strength, flexibility or balance, and try to excel in that area. 

Try yoga and meditation

The COVID-19 pandemic may begin to take a toll on our mental health, particularly with the decreased job security and lack of social interaction. Now is the perfect time to start practising mindfulness, meditation and yoga. Relaxation techniques, such as intentional breathing, can benefit your nervous system and bring you back to a state of calm. There are many guided mediation practices online, which you can follow if you are a beginner.  

Change your workspace

Being stuck in the house can become monotonous, as you are working and living in the same space. Try to separate the two so that there is a clear distinction between work and relaxation. Move around your house, alternate your workspaces, and most importantly try to get out of bed every day. Many people feel the benefit of working at a standing desk as it increases their productivity and burns more calories than sitting down.

Have virtual workout dates

While we can't spend time with each other physically, it is important to stay connected virtually. Daily phone calls, FaceTimes, and conversations can improve our mood and wellbeing. It is also a great way of exercising together and staying accountable for any fitness goals. Here at Medichecks, we have Wednesday Walks in which the staff take photos of their walk every week and upload them onto a team chat. Activities and virtual events can be added into a team calendar, or you could even create competitions between colleagues and friends. 

Create personal goals/targets

Keep yourself motivated with personal goals and targets; these can also be shared amongst friends and colleagues. We have a lot more time to dedicate to our fitness, so why not try maintaining a run streak, hitting a daily step count or joining in with online challenges via MyFitnessPal or Strava.

Mental wellbeing and physical health go hand in hand, so it is important to care for all aspects of yourself. The NHS has many helpful tips on maintaining your mental health during the coronavirus outbreak. Continue to spend time doing things you enjoy, eating healthily, exercising and communicating with loved ones. If you want to be proactive about your general health and nutrition, our Fit to Fight Infection Test can provide you with a comprehensive picture of your current wellbeing.   


References 

GOV.UK, (2020). Guidance on social distancing for everyone in the UK. [online] Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-guidance-on-social-distancing-and-for-vulnerable-people/guidance-on-social-distancing-for-everyone-in-the-uk-and-protecting-older-people-and-vulnerable-adults [Accessed: 24/03/20]. 
 

Cox, M. (2020). How to Stay Active While Social Distancing. [online] Virgin Pulse. Available at: https://www.virginpulse.com/blog-post/how-to-stay-active-while-social-distancing/ [Accessed: 24/03/20].  
 

Kingsley-Hughes, A. (2020). Ideas to help you stay fit and healthy while social distancing and self-isolating. [online] ZDNet. Available at: https://www.zdnet.com/article/ideas-to-help-you-stay-fit-and-healthy-while-social-distancing-and-self-isolating/ [Accessed: 24/03/20].  
 

PDSA, (2020). Vet Q&A: Can pets catch Coronavirus? [online] Available at: https://www.pdsa.org.uk/what-we-do/blog/vet-qa-can-pets-catch-coronavirus [Accessed 25/03/20].