How to stay active during a pandemic
Keeping active is important for your physical and mental health. Here’s how you can get moving and stay motivated even under COVID-19 restrictions.
Tip #1: Some movement is better than none
Michelle Merand, head coach and director at FitBox Tygervalley explains that a lack of motivation is common, even pre-COVID-19. “We might have the feeling of ‘I just can’t do it anymore’ or ‘I am not as strong as I used to be’. This is due to strength and muscle loss as we get older,” says Merand. “But being inactive will make muscle loss much worse.”
Most of us are aware of the benefits of physical activity, but we tend to be less aware of how damaging a lack of activity can be. According to this 2017 study published in Physiological Reviews, insulin resistance (a warning sign for the development of Type 2 diabetes), reduced muscle mass, increased body fat and poor sleep quality are just some of the health concerns caused by physical inactivity. Merand recommends 30 minutes of physical activity daily, which can include basic workouts and stretching. Start small: you’re more likely to stick to an exercise plan if you set reasonable goals, celebrate your successes, and build up gradually.
Tip #2: Get out into nature
Unless you’re in a hard lockdown or you need to remain in quarantine, try to exercise outside. “If you are not able or would prefer not to go to a gym, there are multiple other safe alternatives to stay active without being in crowded spaces and still maintaining social distancing. Being out in nature is a great and safe way to stay active,” says Merand. “Whether it’s a swim in the pool, walking the dog, taking the family on a hike or having a brisk walk around the block – just keep moving,” says Gillian Elson, head of marketing at Planet Fitness. According to this study, reducing your daily steps to less than 1 500 – which is similar to that of a person who is housebound during a pandemic – even for only two weeks can reduce an older person’s insulin sensitivity by as much as one third.
Tip #3: Digital fitness is here
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, gyms and fitness pros have amped up their at-home fitness resources with exercise videos, live streams and personal training over video chat. Examples of home exercises not requiring large spaces or equipment include lifting, chair squats, push-ups, sit-ups, rope jumping, yoga, Pilates, and Tai Chi.
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Tip #4: Exercise improves your mood and builds up immunity
While being fit won’t prevent you from catching the virus, it does have many protective effects. According to Mayo Clinic, exercise releases endorphins (chemicals in your brain that revitalise your mind and body), reduces negative effects of stress, improves your mood, and can also strengthen your immune system, something that is particularly important at this time. “Staying fit and healthy is a great way to strengthen your immune system in the absence of a vaccine for South Africans,” says Elson.
According to this 2020 study, exercise affects the immune system and its antiviral defences. Daily exercise not only boosts our immune systems but counteracts some of the co-morbidities like obesity, diabetes, hypertension and serious heart conditions that make us more susceptible to severe COVID-19.
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Tip #5: Rest is equally important
“While keeping active is vital to your wellbeing, it is also important to get enough sleep, as it affects your overall health. Sleep is an essential part of our body’s defence system,” says Merand. According to the International Society for Exercise and Immunology (ISEI), moderate-intensity physical exercises stimulate cellular immunity, while prolonged or high-intensity practices without appropriate rest can trigger decreased cellular immunity, increasing the propensity for infectious diseases.
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