The COVID-19 pandemic has been ravaging the world for almost nine months. As frontline healthcare workers keep battling COVID-19, we as the general public strive to return to our normal life cautiously, with careful preventative measures for the sake of ourselves and our loved ones.
Countries around the globe have sped up the coronavirus vaccine progress. China, the US and the UK already have vaccines that are in phase 3 clinical trials, the last stage before being approved for general use. Nevertheless, four cases of confirmed reinfection have been reported recently from Hong Kong, Europe and the US. This serves as a reminder that even people who had COVID-19 are not completely free from the virus, especially when it’s mutated.
Exercise Has a Positive Effect on Physical and Mental Health During Pandemics
Exercise has been recommended to mitigate negative physical and psychological effect of social distancing and lock downs due to the pandemic. One study showed that low to moderate exercise is beneficial for our immune defense against respiratory infections, while strenuous exercise put tremendous stress on our respiratory system and make it more susceptible to upper respiratory airway infections.
Regular aerobic exercise has cardiovascular benefits, increases cardiorespiratory fitness and weight loss. Strength and resistance training like weightlifting is an important way to develop skeletal muscle, which is a major immune regulatory organ and generates a range of proteins that have anti-inflammatory effects. Therefore, it is not surprising to see fit individuals who have recovered from coronavirus infection experienced substantial weight (muscle mass) loss due to protein breakdown.
Bouts of exercise distract individuals from worrying and negative thoughts, regain confidence, and improve mental well-being. Psychological issues including anxiety, mental distress, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and anger have been identified during pandemics like COVID-19, MERS-CoV and Influenza A (H1N1), and current findings showed that psychological outcomes significantly impacted on the adoption of pandemic-related behaviors. Individuals who exercise have a lower mental health burden, i.e. fewer days of poor mental health.
Exercise Tips During COVID-19 Pandemic
Keeping a fitness routine during a pandemic is not easy when social distancing and lockdown measures are taken, which changes the lifestyle of the population. One study showed a significant reduction in physical activity and energy expenditure levels during the COVID-19 lockdown period, including almost 50% reduction in calorie consumption compared to pre-pandemic.
Despite difficulties in maintaining a healthy workout habit, as a frequent exerciser, I am sure proper tools, methods and self-discipline will lead us through this challenging time. Here are five exercise tips I would like to share with you.
General Exercise Tips During COVID-19 Pandemic
As mentioned above, suggested exercise intensity is low to moderate, of which target heart rate should be between 57% and 76% of your maximum heart rate. To estimate your maximum heart rate, subtract your age from 220. For example, for a 30-year-old person, the estimated maximum heart rate would be 190 beats/min. Therefore, a low to moderate level exercise intensity for a 30-year-old person would require that the heart rate remains between 108 beats/min and 144 beats/min.
To measure your heart rate, simply place two fingers on the inner side of your wrist or the side of your neck. When you feel the pulse, count the beats for 10 seconds, then multiply the number by six to get your heart rate per minute.
Outdoor/Indoor Exercise Tips During COVID-19 Pandemic
When exercising outdoors, please keep social distancing. A social distance of at least 1 and 1.8 meters, i.e. 3.3 and 6 feet respectively, from others who are not from your household have been suggested by World Health Organization (WHO) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Yet as has been pointed out by a study, this social distance is defined for persons that are in relatively static state, i.e. standing still, and does not take into account the potential aerodynamic effects caused by person movement, such as walking fast, running and cycling. As a result, author of the same study suggests one of two actions taken when walking or running:
1. Avoid waking or running in the slipstream of the leading person, and keep the 1.5 meters or 5 feet distance staggered or side by side arrangement
2. Keep a distance of 5 meters or 16 feet when walking (4 km/h or 2.5 mph), and 10 meters or 33 feet when running (14.4 km/h or 8.9 mph), and increase the distance according to walking/running speed
A figure showing droplet spreading when running at a speed of 14.4 km/h when (a,b) running behind each other; (c) side-by-side; (d) in staggered arrangement.
During a hot and humid summer, exercising outdoors in the early morning or evening and picking a quiet route is the best move. When the above social distancing cannot be maintained, as when walking or running in a busy street, put on a face cover to minimize droplet transfer. Lanyards for face masks can be very useful and convenient when you are out exercising or running errands.
Due to the nature of indoor environments (larger density of people, possible buildup of airborne virus-carrying droplets and the likely higher stability of the virus in indoor air, especially when ventilation is not sufficient), indoor exercise such as working out at the gym bears higher risk. Therefore, a social distance of 10 m2 or 108 ft2 per person should be kept. Wear face covers if such distance cannot be maintained and avoid going to the gym during rush hour or at all.
Physical activities that involve body contact, such as team sports should also be avoided.
Wash hands before and after exercise. Don’t touch your face with your hands during exercise and after touching used face covers.
Home Exercise Tips During COVID-19 Pandemic
Exercising at home is the safest way to stay active during the pandemic. With proper tools and settings, it can be even more effective and efficient than working out at the gym. Gear as simple as free weights, resistance bands, a jump rope and a yoga mat or exercise mat can already facilitate your home workout plan. Get yourself some comfortable and cute workout clothes, it does make a difference when you are sweating as if you just come out of the shower, or just looking in the mirror appreciating your toned silhouette. Download an exercise app or look for some online courses (free or paid). Don’t forget to put on some enjoyable music.
Exercise Tips for Beginners and Seniors During COVID-19 Pandemic
For beginners and seniors, start slow and with someone watching. Monitor your heart rate using the method mentioned above, or with a wearable device. If you are doing strength training, tools as simple as two water bottles can do the trick. Remember to warm up your body with foam rolling and dynamic stretch, as well as cool down. Stay hydrated and keep a balanced diet (55% to 60% carbohydrate, no more than 35% fat, 10% to 15% protein).
Exercise Tips for Weight Loss at Home During COVID-19 Pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic may make your weight loss plan even more difficult to execute, not only because of the huge energy expenditure reduction, but also potential food cravings, especially for high calorie snacks, due to more free time and the negative psychological effect. Curb food cravings for example with small fulfilling meals. Incorporate short bouts of exercise throughout the day. Draw your attention away from temptation by doing stuff that occupies your hands, such as organizing the house, doing chores, gardening, dancing etc.
No matter if you work in public essential service, stay at home, or are in quarantine, exercise is an important way to enhance your physical and mental well-being. Hope these tips are helpful. Is there anything else you’ve found that makes exercise easier during this COVID-19 pandemic? Please share with me.
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