It’s a weird time right now.
Most of us around the world are stuck in our houses or tiny apartments due to COVID-19, with no idea when—or if—life will ever go back to normal.
The days are blending together, and we haven’t gone out to a restaurant or seen a friend outside of a Zoom happy hour in weeks (or for some of us, months).
As a result of being stuck at home, we’re also sitting more. Without the natural hustle and bustle of our normal lives, most of us are moving much less than usual.
With so many of us struggling mentally and emotionally right now, exercise is more important than ever: not because of the need to look a certain way, but for our mental health.
How Exercise Helps Our Mental Health
There are bright sides to any crisis. One positive shift I’ve witnessed over this past month is a change in the conversation around working out for appearance reasons and exercising for mental health instead.
Nobody knows if there’s going to be a beach season any time soon—but they do know that they experience anxiety, lackluster motivation, and brain fog if they don’t move enough during the day.
Being stuck at home, alone or with family or roommates, and not moving much at all has detrimental effects on our health, both physically and emotionally. But, unlike what’s going on in the external world, we can control how much we’re moving.
One significant benefit of exercise is that it works to calm our nervous system. Exercise has been shown in numerous studies to be more beneficial than anti-depressant drugs or psychotherapy to alleviate depression and anxiety.
Movement also helps us deal with stress and manage our emotions better. Because exercise is itself a stressor, the more we exercise, the more our bodies learn to handle stress—meaning that when we come up against actual stressors (like now, when it seems like the world is upside down), we’re able to manage them better.
Exercise also helps to:
- Ease stress, overwhelm, and feelings of distraction
- Lower anxiety
- Manage mild panic attacks
- Clear brain fog
- Increase energy and concentration
- Increase motivation and willpower
- Increase feelings of hope and perspective
It’s Ok to Lower the Bar Right Now
Those of us used aiming for peak performance are generally extremely driven to accomplish our goals, both fitness-related and not.
But I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s feeling a little less superhuman than usual in my workouts right now.
When you’re going through difficult times, or when the world is going crazy around you, it’s completely normal to plateau or even go backwards a bit with your training.
While we would all prefer constant, linear progress, all of the time, that’s not how goal achievement goes.
You don’t have to think of these past few weeks or months as a total wash, but you do have to be realistic and account for the stress and uncertainty that are most likely taking a toll on your mind as well as your body.
Aim for quality and consistency, and don’t worry about whether you’re making giant breakthroughs or hitting a bunch of new PRs right now.
What Type of Exercise to Do
There’s no one-size-fits-all perfect workout type for everyone right now. Some people may prefer the mind-quieting effects of higher intensity exercise (I can relate), while others may find solace in slower movements, including yoga, mobility work, stretching, or walks.
My gut says a combination of both heart rate-raising and slower, gentler movements are probably ideal for most of us right now.
If you’re looking for resources for either workout type, The 12-Minute Athlete book and app contain hundreds of sweaty, efficient HIIT and bodyweight strength workouts you can do using minimal equipment at your home. And if you want something slower, Amanda, 12 Minute Athlete community manager and expert yogi has some simple home yoga sequences on her YouTube channel.
Whatever the type, make a point to do some movement every single day.
Small is Ok
If you can’t muster up the motivation to do your regular workouts right now, don’t be too hard on yourself. Something is always better than nothing, and you’ll get the mental health benefits either way.
If you’re working from home, make sure to get up at least once every hour and move around for a bit. Stretch, pace, twist, jump around a little—just get moving.
Also, everyone should go for walks right now, if you’re able to. Ideally, you walk out in nature (outdoor exercise has even more benefits); if that’s not possible, walk around your neighborhood.
And if you really can’t get outside, pace around your house. You’ll still reap the benefits of walking.
Prioritize Your Well-Being
In addition to moving your body regularly, there are several other ways to stay healthy (mentally and physically) during this time. Here are some things that work for me. Try them, and see if they help you:
- Limiting news intake to 10-15 minutes a day
- Reading books
- Taking Epsom salt baths
- Foam rolling daily (especially if you’re used to getting chiropractic care or massage)
- Connecting with friends or family via FaceTime or Zoom
- Getting out in nature, even if it’s just a walk around the neighborhood
- Learning something new
- Box breathing every day and when anxious (this is a great app I’ve been using)
- Maintaining a gratitude practice
Also, here’s one from positive psychology that I recommend everyone does: At the end of each day, write down three things that went well that day in a journal. They don’t have to be big things. They really can be as simple as “I had delicious fresh blueberries in my oatmeal this morning.”
The key is to do this every single day to prime your brain to look for positivity even when times are tough.
A No-Barrier Workout You Can Do at Home
If you need workout ideas you can do at home, we have plenty on the site, and here’s one you can try that doesn’t require any equipment.
Do as many rounds of this circuit as you want. Alternatively, you can also break it up throughout the day and do a round or two after long work sessions or inactivity.
Remember, we’re not going for stellar PRs right now; instead, the goal is consistent, quality movement. When it comes to mental health, a little goes a long way.
15 air squats
10 superman raises
30-second plank hold
Keep moving and taking it one day at a time. We’ll get through this.
“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” – Viktor Frankl