Stuck inside? 7 Things to do to stay active and healthy indoors
… whether stuck inside from bad weather, at work… or a global pandemic.
Part 1 of a series of 3: Taking care of yourself during stressful times.
With this pandemic, we are all finding ourselves stuck at home way more than we’re used to. No way to go to the gym or do the traditional things we may normally do to exercise and keep healthy.
So here are some things to make it easy and hopefully feel really good to your body, decrease stress levels, improve your mood, become a better dancer and maybe even improve your vision!
Being at home can create problems we really don’t want to add to our lives right now (or ever). Many of these are caused by poor posture, loss of strength and endurance, decreased balance and decreased cardiovascular function and also contribute to the effects of stress (which most of us are marinading in right now!). Stress can magnify physical problems, this is well documented. It doesn’t matter how tough you think you are or how fit you are already.
IF you ended up sick with this virus, you would need full strength to heal and recover. And maintaining your health and moving your body will help boost your immune system, helping you to stay well and fight off what comes your way.
Sitting on the sofa, being more sedentary than normal, can cause decreased lung function – the very thing this Covid-19 is attacking. We gotta get those lungs pumping some air on a regular basis.
Self-care is NOT a selfish act. Homeland Security (the CISA) and California State Governor Newsom have made plain that it is health providers’ “Special Responsibility” to continue to help our population maintain their “health and well-being.” This is important stuff, apparently even to homeland security! And we need to be able to not only take care of ourselves and our own wellness, but we also want to be there as support for our family, friends and the community.
Preventing and reversing these issues can be very easy! It may even save your life weeks from now. You don’t have to do ALL of these every day – pick and choose the ones that work for you! The advice we offer here focuses on the EASIEST steps you can take (a no-excuse approach).
1) Breathe. Breathing exercises have been done for thousands of years (yoga, martial arts, meditative practices) for mental, spiritual and physical benefit, and are now known to reduce stress and anxiety, reduce pain, improve high blood pressure and even aide in digestion. Slowing the breath, with relaxation, is what we’re going for. This should be peaceful, not forceful and shouldn’t cause shortness of breath. Find a depth of breath that feels good to you.
Try this: inhale through the nose for a count of of 5, breathing in at your belly (it should rise OUT, like a billows filling with air). A simple way to make sure you are doing this is to place one hand on your stomach and one on your chest. Breathe deeply and make sure your hand on your stomach is rising. It may take some practice. Pause for 2 seconds at the end of the inhale, feeling peaceful and full of oxygen. Exhale slowly through the nose or mouth (whatever feels right) for a count of 7 (or whatever is comfortable) – a little longer than the inhale, fully relaxing your body, pausing for a count of 2 at the end of the exhale, enjoying the stillness this pause can create. Think of purging all the stress and toxins from your body on the exhale, it will help you exhale fully and relax the breath. After the pause, inhale again starting at the belly, repeating the process.
FEEL the air move into and out of your nose or mouth, throat, lungs, and feel your belly and chest expand and contract. FEEL the temperature and humidity of the breath – feel the molecules gliding in and out, totally focused on that sensation.
Here’s a challenge: try to do 10 breaths without thinking about what you’re going to cook for dinner or any of the things going on in your life. Stop and start back over at 1 if you find your mind wandering. Try it a few times a day. See how your body feels before vs after the 10 breaths. Give it a go – you’ve got nothing to lose… except some stress and tension!
IN (5 sec), pause (2 sec), OUT (7 sec), pause (2 sec). Repeat
2) Stand up. Do this every 30 min. If you’ve been sitting, especially on the couch, chances are your posture has “slumped” causing increased pressure on the discs between your vertebrae. The discs have very few nerves, so you won’t feel this happening – it will sneak up on you. Stand up and do a small back-bend. Standing back-bends tend to reverse this. If it hurts, do this very gently, to coax some benefit without straining. Do it twice and repeat every half hour. Another thing to improve your posture is sticking a pillow behind your back if you’re on a soft couch (the worst place to sit for your back) or even a small pillow behind your back if you’re in a recliner.
3) Walk up and down stairs. OK, make sure you’re safe. Use the handrail, make sure these are safe stairs: no going up and down sketchy steep basement steps or something! For some people, especially those with knee or balance problems, going up and down stairs is too hard, or unsafe – so just do the next exercise below instead, if that’s the case for you. But if you’re good to go, stairs will increase your leg strength and improve your cardio. It pumps lots of blood flow to the big muscles of the legs, which is what they mean by “cardiovascular.” Cardio = heart, the heart pumping blood; and vascular = blood vessels, the conduit getting flushed with blood and the little muscles in the arteries getting a workout too. Do a set up and down the stairs, rest 30 sec – 1 min. Do as many as feels comfortable to you. Start easy, see how you feel the next day if this is new to you.
4) March in place. Start by marching in place for a minute. Do it longer if it’s too easy: this will depend on your current fitness level. Even though it feels dorky, you can get a good workout with this if you do it at an intensity and duration that challenges you a bit. Intensity level should be such that you can still be able to have a conversation with someone next to you – no shortness of breath allowed. Swing your arms, do some air-punches. But see how you feel. Do smaller motions if it’s too much. We want to work out smarter, over a consistent period of time, not harder. Start with one minute, build up to 5 or 10 minutes.
5) Dance. Put on those tunes that make you bob your head and wiggle your hips… or in my case inspire the “white man’s overbite.” Dance for a song. Rest a bit. Repeat. Do what feels good to you and your body. Listen to it. It will tell you how fast and how long to continue.
6) Balance on one foot. Balancing exercises are something we all should be doing – they’re one of the things that worsen as we age (not totally because we’re older, but mostly because we don’t move as much). Check this yourself: stand on one foot: how long can you hold this without hand assist? Normal is 30 seconds. I dare you to check this for yourself. Stand in front of the kitchen sink, so you can catch yourself using your hands on the lip of the sink. Balance on 1 foot for 3 reps of 30 seconds, each foot as a daily exercise. If that’s too hard, put one foot in front of the other like a “tightrope”, and use the counter a bit, just as needed. If you’re out of control, don’t do it or modify it so you’re challenged (a little wobbly) but not losing your balance in earnest. Safety first. (If you have an injury going on in that leg, or pain there skip it – don’t push into pain! Skip anything if it hurts).
7) Go for a walk outside. (I know, I said this was a list about stuff to do INSIDE, but walking outside is my all-time most recommended form of exercise.) BUT… if you can’t go outside LOOK outside. In a optometric study (1), they found that “supplementation of light, particularly in the early hours of the day” has shown beneficial effects on major depressive disorders, as well as mood disorders, and there is some evidence that focusing on distant objects (vs your device) improves long distance vision. Gaze out the window at any form of nature you can see and enjoy the movement of the leaves, maybe while marching in place 😉
8) Drink. No, not another margarita, silly! Drink WATER. Being even slightly dehydrated is enough to cause moodiness, problems concentrating, headaches and fatigue, a new study has concluded. The Mayo clinic says the rule of thumb to drink eight, 8-ounce glasses of water is close enough.
Disclaimer: As with any exercise advice, if it hurts, don’t do it. Do things GENTLY. Never force. Feel your body and listen to it. See full disclaimer below.
So now you know how to work your cardio a bit, you’re getting your legs stronger and your balance better. Your mood is better and you even learned my very best dance move. See, this virus thing is looking up! Enjoy your time at home with your family. Do some of these things together. Maybe we can make some really good things come of this challenging situation.
As a physical therapist here in Santa Maria for the last 18 years I feel close to this community and hope these words and ideas help as least a few people. I would love it if you shared this post with someone who you think could benefit from it – either forward the link or post on Facebook.
I’m here for you, let’s keep in touch!
P.S. Our office is open and safe!
We continue to go above and beyond the already extensive protection recommendations of the CDC – we are also wearing masks, have HEPA filters in all rooms for full clinic air filtration and have modified patient flow so you’ll really only be encountering one other person (your therapist) while here. We estimate this is one of the safest places you could be outside your home.
The CA Governor and Homeland Security have ordered that we have a “special responsibility” to keep our doors open for the health and well being of our community.
So don’t worry about “breaking the rules” – you’re covered, there’s an exception, for going to Physical Therapy!
Of course, you have to decide what’s best for you, but we’re here for ya.
Feel free to contact me here or push the blue “Leave a message”/”Chat now” button over to the right ———> to send me a message that way – let’s chat if you’re unsure or have questions (which would make sense during this unique time!)
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