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Health

No Gym? No Worries — How to Stay Fit at Home

Plus: the right amount of exercise to stay healthy during the pandemic


Part of the The Coronavirus Outbreak: What You Need to Know Special Report

Since his gym closed, you might find Tom Hippman, 55, working out to Journey’s “Eye of the Tiger” in his Dallas living room, using whatever props he can find.

He’s been doing sit-ups against the wall, deadlifting 64-load bottles of Woolite, running through his parking garage and other exercises for 45 minutes a day.

Tom Hippman, of Dallas, finds common household items to use for weight trainingCredit: Courtesy of Tom Hippman
Tom Hippman uses household items for weight training

“Being in a seven-hundred-square-foot apartment is a little more challenging,” Hippman says. “I’ve taken it on as a challenge.”

Many people are spending more time at home thanks to social distancing and shelter-in-place orders amid the coronavirus pandemic. That means some can’t go to the gym or group classes to stay fit like they usually would.

“With coronavirus out there, there’s a tendency not to exercise, but now it’s even more important,” says Dr. Rajiv Misquitta, director of lifestyle medicine at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in South Sacramento, Calif. “If people don’t have a [fitness] plan at home, they’ll become sedentary and that will affect their health.”

Regular exercise is important to keep your body and mind healthy. But you don’t need a gym, expensive equipment, special clothing or a large space to do many activities at home.

Exercise, But Not Too Much

Adults typically should get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a week, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. But it’s different during this coronavirus pandemic, says Tamara Hew-Butler, an associate professor of exercise and sports science at Wayne State University in Detroit.

Instead, Hew-Butler recommends 20 to 45 minutes of moderate exercise three times a week. People, however, can modify that guidance according to their normal fitness routines. But exercise no more than five times a week and no exercise if you have flu-like symptoms, Hew-Butler adds.

To replicate your gym workout, replace your usual equipment with household items, such as canned food for barbells or a bowling ball instead of a medicine ball.

Research on the response of the body’s immune system to exercise shows moderate exercise is “the sweet spot” and inactivity or exercising too much can increase your risk of respiratory viruses, says Hew-Butler, an avid runner. The goal during a pandemic, she explains, is to maintain your fitness level, not increase it.

How do you know if you’re overdoing it? Listen to your body. Extreme soreness, pain or fatigue are probably signs you’re exercising too much.

Stick to an Exercise Routine

Erika Nelson, of St. Paul, Minn., uses her garage for an exercise room.
Squats work muscles from your feet to your core

Create an exercise routine. Make it simple, so you’ll achieve your goals and want to keep exercising.

Older adults should combine moderate aerobic activity with balance and muscle-strengthening (at least twice a week) exercises. Balance and muscle mass deteriorate as people age.

To mirror your gym workout at home, replace your usual equipment with household items, such as canned food for barbells or a bowling ball instead of a medicine ball.

Erika Nelson of St. Paul, Minn., often rearranges the living room furniture or moves her car out of the garage to perform exercises, yoga and Pilates. She does tricep dips with a chair and jumps off her deck.

Nelson, 54, says staying active is important to her.

“I really need it for my brain more than my body,” she says. “I push myself to do it, and I always feel better after.”

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Staying Motivated

Exercising at home can be challenging without equipment, an enthusiastic coach and team support. But it doesn’t mean you can’t interact with others. Talk to your trainer or workout buddies by phone and with video chat apps.

Another idea: Get into a little competition with friends on your number of daily steps or push-ups, suggests Misquitta, who is a certified personal trainer.

Mix various activities to keep things interesting or try something new. Think about what you enjoy: Gardening and dancing count as aerobic exercises, too.

If you need a little inspiration, you’ll find many online resources, such as yoga videos on YouTube and digital music services, like Spotify.

Track Your Progress

Stay motivated and accountable by tracking your activity. Wear a fitness tracker, use mobile apps to track your exercise regimen or simply write down what you do (number of steps or repetitions, your heart rate) on a calendar to see your progress week to week.

Exercises to Try

The following simple exercises don’t require special equipment. The how-to links for them are from the American Council on Exercise website, and the yoga poses are from the Yoga Journal website.

Cardiovascular training:

The National Association of Sports Medicine recommends cardiovascular training three to five times a week or one to three times a week for beginners.

“You want to get your heart rate up a little bit, get warm and start sweating,” Misquitta says. He suggests walking or jogging in place while watching television, walking up and down stairs, dancing or doing jumping jacks.

Core (abdominal muscles):

  • Ab crunches: This provides similar benefits as sit-ups with less strain on your neck and back.
  • Planks: While planks focus on the core muscles of your abdomen and lower back, they really work the whole body. You can start on your knees or place your elbows on a hassock or couch.
  • Trunk rotations: This exercise usually is done with a medicine ball, but you can use a household item, like a heavy book. Start with two pounds and gradually increase the weight.

Upper body:

  • Push-ups: In addition to upper-body muscles, push-ups work your core. If you can’t do push-ups on your toes, start on your knees or plant your feet against a wall.
  • Bicep curls: You can use water bottles or jugs of laundry soap instead of barbells.

Lower body:

  • Squats: Misquitta says squats give you the most bang for your buck. Squats work muscles from your feet to your butt and your core. Use a chair for support.
  • Lunges: This exercise also strengthens abs and improves balance and mobility. First, you may want to become comfortable doing a single-leg stand. Later, extend your arms toward the front or hold weights for a greater challenge.

Yoga poses for balance:

  • Chair pose: It also strengthens the lower back and arm and leg muscles.
  • Tree pose: Beginners can stand near a wall for support. Extend your arms toward the ceiling for more intensity.

By Sheryl Jean
Sheryl Jean was a newspaper journalist for more than 20 years before becoming a freelance writer. She has contributed to the American Heart Association, Chicago Tribune, The Dallas Morning News, Texas Christian University publications, City National Bank and RBC Wealth Management. Connect with her on LinkedIn or follow her on Twitter @SJeanWrites.

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