Rita La Rosa Loud, B.S.
Prior to the COVID pandemic, up to the present time, fitness professionals across the United States have been dedicated to encouraging individuals of all ages to partake in some form of exercise, whether it be walking the neighborhood, at a mall, area park trail with friends or family members, or exercising at a local YMCA, fitness gym, community health center, or senior fitness facility.
Our nation is already in grave turmoil due to the detrimental effects of inactivity and poor eating habits. It is called the inactive and obesity epidemic. Alas, according to the Centers for Disease Control, few people (less than 3 percent) over the age of 60 meet the minimum requirements of exercising five days per week for 30 minutes at three Mets, which is the equivalent of walking at 2.5 miles per hour—a sad state of affairs.
In its attempt to make life easier, it appears that modern technology has inopportunely played a role, seeing as a sedentary lifestyle leads to serious health consequences, both physically and mentally. Just look around you. Due to lack of exercise, so many of us are dealing with obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and plainly just being overweight! Consistent with the American Health Association, 2005, physical inactivity and an unhealthy diet are among the primary risk factors. The question is, has technology really made our lives easier? Are we, in fact, being conditioned to be de-conditioned? And, if so, what can we do about it? Let’s explore this dilemma.
THE OLD NORMAL
Even before COVID, we were sitting more and eating more, sprawled on our sofas watching TV, turning on the television remotely, and texting on our smart phones that are literally glued 24-7 on our person. In earlier years, I remember getting off my rump and running to answer the one and only phone we had in our home. Well, those days are gone. Rather than walking, riding a bike, or taking a bus or train to reach our destinations, we drive just about everywhere now, even if it is only a couple of minutes away.
THE NEW NORMAL
Then computers took over. We can talk into them (as well as on our phones and now our TVs) rather than type, or we find ourselves seated in front of the monitor, playing games, attending trainings, meetings or teaching on ZOOM throughout the day, never mind combing through social media sites for hours on end. Shall I go on?
And now, with this current virus situation, the problem has intensified. We are finding ourselves restricted to our homes, locked down or quarantined with just about nowhere to go. Suddenly, we cannot go out to our favorite restaurants, or socialize with friends or families like we did in the past. Less activity is a result, and more eating again. I know this all sounds very depressing. But, trust me there is a light at the end of the tunnel. And, it has to do with your mindset in how you look at things.
WHAT YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT
Although the new gadgets have made life easier in terms of getting somewhere faster or doing things in less time, they also provide alternative approaches and creative life-enhancing programming. Many experts in the fitness arena are committed to promoting the benefits of health, fitness, and wellness via these modern means of communication. For starters, you need to be aware of these offerings, adjust, and learn new ways to get active.
For example, there are tools in your home that everyone can use to exercise, like water bottles to replace dumbbells, chairs and sofas to perform seated exercises, stairs to climb, walls to lean against to perform upper and lower body conditioning, and all of these also can be used to perform stretching exercises and so much more! And there are free at-home programs that are offered online that you can follow along as the instructor demonstrates and cues the exercises.
And, yes, there are some gyms that are still open and COVID compliant, where you can engage in machine-based resistance training, weighted workouts, cardiovascular and flexibility exercises, as well as functional training.
HERE’S HOW TO START
All this may sound a bit daunting, but if you just think about it, we can use these gadgets and new technology to our advantage, both physically and mentally. The first step is to be aware of what we have within our grasps. For example, using our own bodyweight is a great place to start! As a matter of fact, it is highly recommended to perform exercises using correct form and technique utilizing your own body weight before progressing to resistive type tools, like dumbbells, tubing, exercise balls, etc.
The good news is that it is possible to perform exercises using no tools at all and still receive many health benefits. Once you get the moves down with some guidance, then you can add resistance. You will see that most anything can replicate a weight, like various size water bottles, smaller to larger size books, a light or heavy pocketbook, a brief case filled with magazines, even a broom stick to exercise.
Yet short bouts of exercise have a cumulative effect. Isn’t it nice to know that you can reap health benefits and lower the risk of coronary heart disease, with three, separate 10-minute workouts that are just as beneficial as one light-to-moderate 30-minute exercise session (Mokdad, 2004)!
There are also very effective free APPS on your phone or online that you can use to count calories, calculate your exercise activity, and monitor your steps when you are cleaning the house, dancing around to your favorite music, going for a walk, or exercising between commercial breaks. Also, there are APPS with nature sounds of the ocean waves, birds singing, wind blowing and the pattering of rain drops that can relax your mind and put you at ease when you feel a bit stressed.
USE WHAT YOU HAVE
In many respects it is not your fault that you are being conditioned to be de-conditioned. But that doesn’t mean you sit back on your laurels and let it happen, right? I hope you can see that there are many simple and creative ways to overcome this inclination. Allow me to list some items about the house that you can use to perform exercises, including chairs, benches, ottomans, tables, your bed, countertops, railings, stairwells, banisters, walls, floors, books, pocketbooks, briefcases, water bottles, balls, ropes, towels, broomsticks, and more.
Next, let me provide you with a few examples of bodyweight exercises that you can do using some of the above in-home tools of your choice. Do about 10-15 repetitions using a slow controlled, movement speed; be sure to breathe throughout the exercises, and train two or three times per week, on non-consecutive days.
AT-HOME BODY WEIGHT EXERCISES
Be sure to warm up first to prepare your body for the following lower body, mid-section, and upper body exercises. Perhaps you could go out for a short, 10-20-minute stroll in your neighborhood or just march in place for a few minutes in your living room or put on your favorite tunes while moving your body by stepping side to side, performing low leg kicks, lifting up your knees, and reaching your arms front, side, and up.
LOWER BODY EXERCISES
You can do simple calf raises while holding onto a wall, railing, countertop, fireplace mantle, or a broomstick. If you have pretty good balance, you can perform calf raises while holding a water bottle, or book, in each hand. Just rise up onto your toes then lower back down and repeat.
What about doing some seated squats using a stable chair, sofa, or bench? Start in a seated position then stand up then sit down, and repeat. This is a super effective exercise for your hips, thighs, and buttocks.
How about some abdominal exercises (front of the trunk) while seated in a chair, sofa, or bench? Sit upright at the edge of the seat, lift one knee up at a time as you bring the same elbow to the same knee. To work the obliques (sides of the waist) bring the opposite elbow to the opposite knee and repeat alternating right then left.
Planks to work the core musculature and stabilizers are easy to incorporate. You can use a steady surface. Support both elbows directly beneath your shoulders. Keep your abs pulled in and back flat to avoid sinking your hips. Keep your body in a straight line while you extend both legs behind you on your toes. Hold this position for 10 seconds and no more than 2 minutes building 10 seconds at a time.
UPPER BODY EXERCISES
Depending on your fitness level, let’s try some pushups using a smooth wall, countertop, or flat bench. Place your hands at chest level on the wall, edge of the counter or bench, then slowly bend your elbows bringing your chest toward the wall, counter, or bench, then straighten your arms. Repeat until you complete the desired repetitions. This is an exercise that primarily trains the chest, triceps, and shoulder muscles.
Lastly, how about a bent over row exercise to work back, biceps, and shoulders using your own bodyweight, water bottle, or a book? Perform this on a chair, sofa, or flat bench. Sit at the edge of the preferred furniture piece. Bend forward at your hips, keep your back flat. Place one hand on one thigh to support your spine. Let the other arm hang straight down. Bring your elbow back so your hand, water bottle, or book ends up by your ribs. Slowly straighten your arm back down. After completing the desired number of repetitions, repeat with the other arm.
Together, let’s adjust to the new normal by becoming more physically active, rather than the complete opposite, in order to avoid some of the health issues and weight problems that result from inactivity. Include cardiovascular exercise, stretching exercise, and resistance exercise to build muscle, strength and endurance. Wisely use the sophisticated technology to your advantage.
Especially now that we are essentially spending more time in our homes, why not make the most of it by taking time to exercise our bodies and our minds. I guarantee you will feel so much better for it! Let’s face it— an active lifestyle is a perfect recipe for a better and healthier life!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rita La Rosa Loud holds a B.S. in exercise physiology with additional education in sports medicine and athletic training. She is NASM Certified and has been actively involved in the fitness industry for over 35 years. She is also an author and writes fitness-related articles for various fitness publications. Currently, she is a fitness researcher who co-directs the Health & Fitness Center at Quincy College with Dr. Wayne L. Westcott and owns RP Partners in Health with her husband Paul.