Staying in Shape and Safe (and sane) While Social Distancing

physical therapy home exercise program

I’m Practicing Social Distancing… Now What?

Thank you for doing your part to help avoid the spread of COVID-19 in our St. Louis area and greater communities! These efforts do not go unnoticed. Whether we consider ourselves more introverted or more extroverted, social distancing can be difficult to do, and frankly, boring! In the coming weeks, many of us are going to be spending more time at home, away from others, and it will be easy to fall out of our daily routines – which can mean becoming rather sedentary. So, we ask the question, how can we use this time of necessary social distancing to initiate positive, healthy, and sustainable changes in our lives?

I’m Social Distancing… Outside!

This practice may seem simple, but going outside for a walk is great for your health. In fact, aerobic exercise can help to reduce stress by decreasing the body’s production of adrenaline and cortisol, while boosting the release of endorphins! Even better, you don’t have to take a 2 hour long walk to realize the benefits. Start by walking, biking, or running for 10 to 15 minutes a day, slowly increasing duration and intensity. “But it’s cold and rainy!” Just walking around your home at least 5 minutes an hour keeps us getting off the couch. By the end of an 8-hour workday at home, you will have walked 40 minutes! Additionally, taking 5-minute breaks every hour from working and screen time, helps to reset the mind and focus on tasks at hand.

I’m Social Distancing… And Getting Stronger!

Gym closed? Just because we can’t go to the gym doesn’t mean we can’t strength train. It is easy to use common household items as weights and resistance for workouts. Hold a can of soup or a gallon of milk in place of weights, practice squatting holding a 5-pound bag of potatoes! Better yet, we do not necessarily need to set aside an hour of the day to exercise – just incorporate exercises into daily routines. For instance, knock out 20 squats while waiting for the microwave timer. To take it a step further, perform side steps while walking to the kitchen and then back to the couch to eat (as long as it isn’t a bowl of hot soup!) If you have stairs in your home, perform heel raises on the bottom stair. Point is, 60 minutes every day to lift weights might not be practical, especially right now. Instead, we can incorporate strengthening exercises into existing tasks.

I’m Social Distancing… And Breathing!

Let’s be real, the past few weeks have been stressful. When we are stressed, we unintentionally change our breathing habits. This can lead to sore neck muscles and headaches. The diaphragm at the base of the rib cage is the primary muscle for breathing. When life is good, we tend to take nice, slow breaths. However, stress and anxiety cause secondary breathing muscles start to fire, including the anterior scalene muscle in your neck. These muscles help breathing because they attach to your first rib, helping to expend the ribcage. This is helpful when we are running or exercising. However, when the anterior scalene fires too much, the neck can become sore and even induce a headache. To combat this, practice diaphragmatic breathing. Simply, lay one hand on your chest and one on your stomach. When you inhaling through your, push your belly out into your hand. When you exhale through your mouth, let your belly relax. Ensure the hand on your belly moves more than the hand on your chest. Just a couple minutes a day can significantly help lower stress levels.

I’m Social Distancing… And Happy!

Social distancing can influence our moods. By maintaining some level of activity, we increase our production of “happy” chemicals, and we set ourselves up to successfully draw the energy to better combat this pandemic. Implementing healthy changes into our lives now, even just at home, we can make habits that will last a lifetime.  Aerobic exercise, strength training, and diaphragmatic breathing are three easy and effective steps we can take to significantly decrease the amount of stress running through our bodies. So… get off the couch, step away from your computer, and get active!

I’m #quarantined but still #livingmybestlife

About the Author: Rachel Weilendich, PT, DPT is a graduate from St. Louis University School of Physical Therapy in 2018. Originally from Chicago, IL, Rachel has made St. Charles County her home and she enjoys caring for members of her new community.