COVID-19: At-home workouts the only thing left to hold on to, but they work

It's time to fire up the at-home workouts to cope with longterm pandemic stress, says expert

Denise Ryan 3 minute read December 31, 2021

Yoga with Adriene, the wacky Zoom parties, the sourdough starter — the novelty has worn off.

It was all okay, as long as we had an end in sight. The endurability of a circuit breaker or even a lockdown was possible because of its temporary nature. Vaccines were coming.

Vaccines came. Hockey returned, classes were back in session, it was full speed ahead. The moment lasted what — two, three weeks? Then came the Omicron variant with its dizzying number of mutations, and a return to uncertainty.

“The pandemic feels never-ending,” said Eli Puterman, an associate professor in the school of kinesiology at UBC. “We are in a phase where we had hope, and that hope has been dashed. I think that we are all in a state of dread, a dread of what the future is going to look like.”

“Part of the dread is that dashed hope,” said Puterman. “What do we do now?”

The length of the pandemic has put us in a new psychological framework.

“Its quite daunting,” said Puterman. “People are worn down, and when you are psychologically worn down and depressed and anxious, coming up with structured routines and coping strategies is harder.

“In normal times of challenge, stress hormones like cortisol help people move toward solutions, and fixing or resolving problems. But long-term exposure to these stress hormones start impacting our brains in other ways.

“If you have anxiety or depression, it’s having a cognitive impact where making decisions is harder. It’s hard to remember that when you worked out, it felt good. With depression, our brains are less cognitively flexible.”

It may not be novel, and it may not be fun — it may not even seem possible with snow on the ground, gyms closed and that unanswerable question of when this will all be over — but exercise can help.

“Exercise helps the immune system to get really robust, helps train the stress response system to shut down sooner rather than later so when you do react, you are not going to react as fast. And when you recover, you recover faster,” said Puterman, whose study on the benefits of at-home exercise programs was published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine in Oct. 2021.

“Ask yourself, ‘How am I going to do it this year in a new way, that you like?’ Hikes, walks, using a park bench to do step ups and push ups. You can use band, small weights, YouTube, the seven-minute workout, a free app that when done daily has been shown to be effective.”

For the study, and to stay mentally and physically fit, Puterman uses Down Dog, an app with a repertoire of 2,000 videos. “If you have a space in your house big enough to do a lunge, then you can use it,” said Puterman.

“We just need to do it. It’s easier said than done, but think about what you can do for five minutes a day that is more than the zero minutes you did yesterday. It’s better than nothing for brain and heart health.”


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