Exercise during lockdown

In this blog, CorLife Co-Founder and CEO Dr. Adam Carey takes us through his thoughts of how to maintain fitness during the COVID19 lockdown.

We have been locked down for three weeks so far and we are now facing a further three, so how can we use this time to get ourselves in tip-top shape both mentally and physically? 

The truth is that unfortunately this epidemic won’t fully be over until either most of us have experienced the virus or we come up with a vaccine – and this is going to take many months. 

So making sure we’re as healthy as we can be is critical as we continue to face COVID-19 and are yet to reach the light at the end of the tunnel. 

Certainly for the vulnerable in our society, this situation could last a lot longer than a few more weeks.  But, as we are getting more information about the Coronavirus, we’re learning that one in ten of those dying in hospital do not have previously known health issues.  So, unlike what we previously believed, those most at risk are not just the elderly with known diseases.  It’s becoming increasingly clear that those who are unfit and overweight are among the most vulnerable of those who contract the virus.  Unfortunately, a large proportion of the population fall into this category, which is obviously a clear cause for concern among healthcare specialists and the general population alike. 

So how can we help ease the strain on the services by staying as fit and healthy as we can? 

It seems like a daunting prospect as we face remaining housebound for 23 hours a day for potentially many more weeks to come.  But that is exactly what I want to answer in this blog. I hope to explore the impact of exercise on your health, as well as giving you tips on how to develop some simple habits that will keep you agile in both mind and body and prevent the likelihood of you needing further support if you contract Coronavirus.

The benefits of exercise go way beyond just being fit or looking good on the beach.  It’s now clear that regular exercise reduces your risk of getting, or dying from, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer.  What’s more, if you were to experience one of these diseases, the outcome for fit individuals is markedly improved.  Moderate exercise massively impacts your immune system, for example it reduces your risk of getting a cold by 30%.  And it also impacts how you think and feel.  Not only does regular exercise improve your cognitive function like your short-term memory, it will also measurably improves your sleep. It’s the natural antidote to stress and is the single most effective treatment and protection against depression and anxiety.  However, the problem lies that it’s difficult to motivate depressed individuals to start exercising, so in that case it’s better to focus on adopting habits that will protect you and continually improve your mood. 

Over the last few years there has been greater recognition of the rise in mental health cases in our workplaces and particularly among younger generations.  And as a positive side effect, we’ve seen an increase in the number of services focussed at identifying and supporting these individuals.  However, what is often overlooked or not given due focus is the correlation between physical wellbeing and mental health.  The former is determined by your diet and how active your are, as well as your rest and recovery – or in other words sleep (which we did a blog on last week.) While the latter is determined by a whole host of factors, both internal and external, we know that being physically healthy does improve your mental health. 

Different forms of physical activity.

When people think about exercise they often think about cardiovascular activities like jogging or cycling or sweating it out in the gym. However there are in fact six types of exercise, which are:

  • Incidental 
  • Cardiovascular
  • Core
  • Strength
  • Power
  • Flexibility

In order to be truly physically healthy, we need to factor in all of them – which is perfectly achievable, even without a personal trainer guiding you through!

  • Incidental activity

This refers to the movements you do during the day that are not part of a structured exercise session.  An easy way to assess this is by measuring the number of steps you take in a 24-hour period.  At CorLife we give everyone on a programme a watch which, among other things, measures your steps.  What I have noticed over the last four weeks since I have been working from home is that it is very easy to not move much at all. While before I was easily covering over 10,000 steps just with my daily commute, now I could happily walk less than 1,000 steps in a day! It’s often recommended to cover the magic number of 10,000 steps a day as that qualifies you as being ‘active’ and roughly equates to walking five miles per day. If you use your Government-permitted daily hour outside to walk briskly you can achieve 10,000 steps in that time. Alternatively, you could use this time to jog, run or cycle depending on your level of fitness.

Taking a long walk is a great way for those who are less active to get fitter and healthier and is a very beneficial daily habit to develop!

  • Cardiovascular exercise

When we exercise for more than 20-minutes the brain releases endorphins that are opiate-like chemicals and which make you feel good.  Additionally, cardiovascular activity is a natural antidote to tension as it reduces stress hormones, making you feel less anxious and more relaxed. Evolutionary, the stress response was always triggered by an acute and dangerous situation, like encountering a predator or adversary. It was developed to help decipher whether to run away or engage in a fight – the so-called flight or fight response. 

Today’s stresses tend not to be so acute, but more chronic and just as burdensome on the mind and body.  Therefore, exerting yourself with some intense exercise will reset your stress response, which will have a positive impact on your mental health.  

  • Core strength

Your core muscles are those that support your spine between your chest and your pelvis, which are both bony cylinders that support the spine. Between them sits your abdomen that contains your bowel, kidneys and bladder and it is these muscles at the front, side and posterior that support the spine.  When these muscles weaken as we age and because they’re not trained the spine is no longer appropriately supported. This leads to the connecting nerves being impinged upon which then causes lower back pain and sciatica – a pain that radiates from your back into your buttocks and legs.  Lower back pain is the second most common cause of absence from work after stress so this is not to be overlooked.

We need a strong core to be able to do any other form of activity and a weak core leads to lower back injuries and pain. Whilst sit ups will strengthen the front of the abdomen, they do little for the sides and the rear.  A good addition to your exercise routine would be to include holding a static plank like below:

Good form is critical when doing plank exercises

The aim would be to hold this for eventually three minutes but start with getting to just one minute. You can also do a plank on both sides resting on one elbow, and again you should try to hold this for a minute.

This three-minute plank workout is something to aspire to! https://youtu.be/ynUw0YsrmSg

But be sure not to overlook your “form.” If your back starts to sag then you need to stop or you could be putting additional pressure on your back.  Gradually build up the time you can hold the plank for with good form.  Planking isn’t very time-consuming, however it’s very effective. The trick is little and often!  

  1. Flexibility

You can also exercise your core and improve your flexibility by doing Yoga.  Yoga is a fantastic exercise because not only will it help strengthen your core, but it will also fortify the rest of your body. Yoga has built-in stretching which naturally develops your flexibility. It also helps you focus on your breathing whilst engaging in movement. This practice has lots of meditative benefits which can help improve your mindfulness and general mental wellbeing. 

My favourite type of Yoga is called Ashtanga which is widely available on Youtube, for example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zAo4qHnQfSg

  • Strength

Whilst Ashtanga Yoga will make you stronger, additionally doing a few floor exercises using your body weight will help to build your strength and power.  Again, there are lots of tools available on the internet for those who are not accustomed to exercise.  One of my favourites to start is the Seven Minute App available on the App store which is essentially seven exercises held for one minute each. If you follow this plus add in your plank then you could complete your daily exercise within just 10 minutes. All it takes is ten minutes and a walk to change your life. How hard can it be?

  • Power

If you want to focus more on power then look to include a more challenging workout into your routine such as Insanity. This programme consists of 20-40 minute workouts which don’t require equipment and can be easily accessed online from your home. So no excuses! And remember it’s all in the name.  If ‘insanity’ isn’t your gig, then worry not as there are many other less extreme alternatives, for example (don’t worry he calms down a little after the first 10 seconds!):

How can we put this into practice on a daily basis?

I firmly believe that we were designed to move and more specifically to move before eating anything in order to switch on our metabolisms for the day ahead. The advantage of doing some activity before breakfast is that your insulin, the hormone that controls your glucose levels and directs your body on what fuel to use, will be low.  When it is low the message it is giving your body is to use fat as a source of fuel.  So, getting up and doing a seven-minute workout and a plank takes just 10 minutes. Everyone has 10 minutes.  On some days you might add in either a Yoga routine or go for a walk or jog at this time.  As you get fitter the seven minutes could be repeated or you could graduate onto a more challenging body weight workout. And all the while you are doing this before eating you are burning fat.

Plus psychologically it is great to get your activity done first thing as you’ll feel good for the whole day, both mentally and physically. 

If we are going to be locked down for weeks to come, we need to see this time as an opportunity.  Many of us working from home have significantly more time to play with as we are no longer commuting, so we can no longer make excuses of being time-poor for reason not to exercise. 

You’ll find that introducing further movement into your routine will make you feel both better in mind and body, so what are you waiting for?