By: Allison Kauffman
After weeks of quarantine in March, April and May, due to the coronavirus pandemic, things started to open up in June, so many of us were looking forward to getting back to some kind of normalcy. Because of social distancing, many of us were not able to be as active as we would have liked. For some, who live in personal care and nursing homes, they were not able to leave their rooms for weeks at a time to keep them safe from the virus. However, now there are lots of opportunities to be active again.
At RiverWoods and Normandie Ridge Senior Living Communities, residents have enjoyed outdoor fitness classes, either on their balconies or in courtyards with plenty of social distancing. Many residents enjoy walking and are taking advantage of the walking trails on both campuses. But fitness experts recommend you ease back into a routine and don’t do too much too fast, after weeks of limited activity.
The first recommended step is a visit to see your physician. Karen Litzy, a physical therapist and spokesperson for the American Physical Therapy Association, tells Time Magazine, “It’s a good idea to see your physician or your physical therapist before going back to the gym or starting a fitness routine. Your doctor will likely perform a quick evaluation of where you are at, in terms of strength, flexibility and cardiovascular health. In doing so, a doctor can ensure you are healthy enough for physical activity.”
After visiting with the doctor, you can then decide what your fitness plan will be. Remember that some of your time of rest has undone some of the healthy gains you have achieved. So, don’t expect to hop back into a routine and have it be easy right away. As a runner, I experience this first hand. If I run four times a week regularly, I feel great. However, if I miss days for weeks, sometimes it feels like I am starting all over, with no endurance. It can be very frustrating, so mentally I just have to prepare myself for that.
It’s also important to warm up and stretch before exercise and cool down after a workout. According to Heart.org, a good warm-up dilates your blood vessels, ensuring that your muscles are well supplied with oxygen. It also raises your muscles temperature for optimal flexibility and efficiency, which is critical for preventing injury. The cool-down keeps the blood flowing throughout the body. If you have ever felt light-headed after suddenly stopping exercise, that is caused by your heart rate and blood pressure dropping rapidly. That’s why cooling down is so important.
When it comes to warming up, Heart.org recommends warming up for 5 to 10 minutes, doing whatever activity you plan on doing, at a slower pace. Following exercise, you are recommended to walk for about 5 to 10 minutes and do slow stretching, holding poses for 10 to 30 seconds.
To ease back into exercise, you can get creative. Try using the stairs instead of the elevator, or walking into town for dinner. According to WordofHealth.com, start with flexibility workouts to increase blood flow and circulation while supporting range of motion and joint mobility. You could try a yoga class or Tai Chi or choose 10 to 15 stretches, performing each movement for up to a minute. After that, you can add light cardio to your workout. After stretching exercises, take a brisk 20-minute outdoor walk. You can also use treadmills, ellipticals and stationary bikes to get in your cardio on a hot day. After a week of stretching and cardio exercises, you can add strength training to your routine. Exercises such as squats, lunges and bridges can be done anywhere. You can add hand weights to make it more challenging. You can also try some hamstring curls and core exercises to activate your muscles. However, you should start slow with a limited amount of reps and work your way up in the weeks ahead, so you don’t injure yourself.
According to Psychology Today, exercise is extremely important for your mental health. If you are like me, I experienced sadness and depression during the coronavirus quarantine phase. I desperately wanted my life to return to what it was before the pandemic. I still do, but I have hope since many things are returning to normal. So how does exercise help with these feelings of sadness? Exercise stimulates the body to produce endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good hormones. People also can benefit from calming exercises, be more energized after exercise, which can improve mood and general health.
While exercising, you also may run into neighbors or friends, who you may not have seen in weeks or months. Social distancing is still recommended, but when you are out exercising, you can chat from six feet away! My friends and I run in the morning and be sure to space out so we can be together at a safe distance.
So now is definitely the time to get back out there and exercise. If you don’t want to go to a fitness center, enjoy exercising in the early morning hours when it is cooler, or the late evening. Watching the sunrise or sunset can also boost your mood. Exercise is a very personal thing. Only you know what exercise routine works best for you, but be sure to follow the tips listed above to return to exercise safely for better success.