4 tips to get moving if you are stuck at home during the COVID-19 pandemic

Karen Basen-Engquist. Ph.D., has managed to stay physically active during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. According to a recent study,  she may be in the minority — and she understands why.

In the unpublished study posted on Cambridge Open Exchange, researchers found that people who got the recommended amount of physical activity before the pandemic exercised about 32% less once the pandemic – and stay-at-home orders – took hold. People who were not getting the recommended amount of exercise before the coronavirus pandemic stayed at about the same level of activity.

“I’m not surprised by these study results,” says Basen-Engquist, director of MD Anderson’s Center for Energy Balance in Cancer Prevention and Survivorship. “I think that when people are in stressful situations and there are barriers to healthy choices, healthy habits take a backseat.”

Exercise may not feel like a priority right now, but it is important to stay active. Exercise relieves stress, helps reduce the symptoms of anxiety and depression, and boosts your immune system.

It can also lower your risk for cancer and other diseases. And for cancer survivors, regular exercise can reduce fatigue and improve outcomes.

If you are struggling to stay active during the coronavirus pandemic, try this advice from Basen-Engquist.

Find tools that can help you stay active during the COVID-19 pandemic

You don’t need special equipment, access to a gym or a lot of space to get your heart rate up, build strength and improve your mobility.

“Videos and apps can provide you with structured routines that are easy to follow,” says Basen-Engquist.

Workouts that include body weight exercises like pushups and sit-ups and cardio exercises like jumping jacks and burpees can be done in small spaces with no weights or machines.

If you are worried about your joints, or your downstairs neighbors, low impact exercises and yoga are good options. You may even discover a new exercise routine you enjoy and will continue once social distancing guidelines are eased.

Build new habits during the coronavirus pandemic

A habit is something you don’t have to think about, triggered by consistent cues and strengthened by repetition.

Before the pandemic, laying out your running clothes each night may have been your cue to take a morning run. Over time, laying out the clothes and going for a run became a habit.

When your old habits get disrupted, says Basen-Engquist, “You have to accept that you need to do something different.”

Start by setting goals that are achievable under your current conditions. Decide how often you are going to exercise, and set yourself up for success by putting your workouts on your calendar.

Then create a trigger by getting comfortable clothes and shoes ready the night before. Finally, make exercise convenient by having your favorite workout videos bookmarked and easy to find.

By setting reasonable goals and removing barriers, you are more likely to create a new habit that sticks.

Get up and move every hour

Being stuck at home can mean long period of screen time and lots of sitting. It’s important to get up and move throughout the day.

Sitting is risk factor for a number of health problems, even for people who exercise,” says Basen-Engquist. In other words, a strenuous workout won’t make up for a sedentary day.

To break up sitting time, get up and walk around your house or apartment for at least 2-3 minutes every hour. You can even march in place.

It’s OK to take a walk outside if you can maintain a distance of at least 6 feet from others.

Short breaks can boost your productivity, improve your cardiovascular health and ease the strain on your shoulders and joints that comes from sitting for a long time.

Don't wait for the COVID-19 pandemic to end: start exercising now

It’s tempting to put exercise on the backburner with so much disruption and uncertainty in our lives. But putting a pause on exercise will just make it harder to start back up again.

“As soon as you stop exercising, you start losing fitness,” says Basen-Engquist.

Adults should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week and perform strength training exercises at least twice a week.

Basen-Engquist’s recommendation: Do the best you can.

“If you can be physically active during this time, give yourself a pat on the back. It’s not an easy thing, and you are doing something really good for yourself,” she says.

Request an appointment at MD Anderson online or by calling 1-877-632-6789.