As we hunker down for the winter while the COVID-19 pandemic continues, it’s easy to let exercise fall by the wayside. But continuing some sort of physical activity is important for overall health and well-being, and even if you’re working from home or staying in without access to a gym, there are ways to stay active.
“With the increase in working from home and push for staying at home, I’ve definitely seen an uptick in patients with pain related to decreased activity,” says Aimee Smith, a physical therapist with Washington University Physical Therapy – O’Fallon. “While some have stopped their usual exercise routines, some are also moving less throughout the day, sitting for hours on end at home without a break.”
Periodic movement is important, even if it’s just standing, stretching and walking around the house for a few minutes each hour. And if you think it doesn’t really matter, consider all the benefits you can reap from about 150 minutes per week of moderate aerobic activity and twice-weekly strength training.
Movement is beneficial for just about every aspect of health, Smith says. Consistent exercise can help decrease blood glucose levels, decrease blood pressure and improve cholesterol levels. It can benefit brain health by reducing the risk of depression and anxiety, can positively affect mood and can improve sleep quality.
“Additionally, consistent exercise can improve both muscle and bone strength, increase flexibility and endurance, and can improve balance,” she notes. “All these components greatly decrease your risk of musculoskeletal injury, like muscle strains, ligament or tendon strains or tears, and fractures. Decreased risk of falling is another benefit of consistent exercise.”
If you’re convinced, but unsure what to do, Smith has a number of suggestions. First, a brisk, 30-minute walk five times a week will take care of your recommended aerobic exercise. Virtual classes through local gyms can keep you safe and fit, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a wealth of exercise suggestions and instructions available for free at cdc.gov.
“If you are experiencing pain or discomfort while exercising that is not the typical ‘muscle burn’ or ‘muscle soreness,’ you may seek out a physical therapist for more specific guidance,” Smith says. “And if you’ve transitioned to working from home and have been experiencing more pain from your home office setup, a physical therapist can also give you advice on desk setup, positioning and appropriate support to improve comfort.”
There’s no one-size-fits-all pandemic workout plan, she adds. “Be gentle with yourself,” Smith concludes. “Increasing activity levels by any amount can positively affect your health even if you don’t get those 150 minutes in every week.”
Washington University Physical Therapy – O’Fallon, 1 Progress Point, Suite 100, O’Fallon, Missouri, 314-286-1940, pt.wustl.edu/patient-care/locations/ofallon-location