How to juggle between physical activity and life in confinement

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Does your silly little walk feel more silly day by day? Associate Professor Melody Smith from the University of Auckland’s School of Nursing has ways to get active in lockdown without getting bored.

Here we are again in Aotearoa, navigating homework, childcare, teaching, checking in with others, working on our epidemiology skills, tracking cute pet videos, looking for toilet paper and flour, and baking, lots of baking. Let’s not forget to keep an eye on the clock for the 1pm presser – such good viewing it even has its own reviews on IMDB. And while we chat, what about this time huh? Although we love the rain for the gardens, there has been a lot of it lately and the skies have felt a little grayer than usual.

Given all of this weighing on us, it’s no surprise that many of us feel overwhelmed, and many have already written about Covid-19 and the chronic stress it has caused. I have really appreciated the generosity of others in sharing wellness tips, tricks and advice, including some great threads from psychologist and writer Sarb Johal here and here, and by endocrinologist Jade Tamatea here. There are also many great resources available online, including at Mental Health Foundation and on the Health Navigator site.

Physical activity is essential to support our well-being during confinement. Physical activity is not only fundamental to our physical well-being, it also supports mental well-being and can help connect us to each other, which can help us through these difficult times. Being active daily can even help you sleep better, and gFresh air and interaction with nature can help reinforce the benefits of physical activity and support mental well-being.

Physical activity is the key to containment. (Screenshot: Kath & Kim/Youtube, additional design by Tina Tiller)

While confinements can make our physical activity more difficult, Now is arguably more important than ever to start a habit of physical activity. But in addition to the physical restrictions we are used to, the delta variant complicates things even more. Mask-wearing and physical distancing can make outdoor activities more difficult, but are essential to keeping everyone safe. If you find exercising outdoors with a mask uncomfortable (I’m thinking of you runners), you might want to use some quarantine time to focus on cross-training at home or try a few. injury prevention exercises.

Some may be unable to go out or feel anxious about leaving the house. Others may not have a lot of space or equipment to be active at home. And, besides, who has the time and energy to stay active when we’re juggling all those extra roles and the mental load of navigating Covid-19 and the associated lockdowns? Just thinking about adding physical activity to the growing list of “to do” activities can make it a pretty unattractive option.

It can be helpful to think of physical activity as a time to give your mind a break from the stress and anxiety you’re feeling, rather than seeing it as just another job to do. Really focusing on the activity you’re doing (like doing a body scan while exercising – what does it feel like, what’s my technique, what muscles can I feel, how’s my breathing?) can help calm your mind and reduce those feelings. Scheduling in time to be active can help keep you on track, and it will be a small part of the day that you feel in control of, which can also help your mental well-being.

Angela Lansbury shows an example of walking. (Screenshot: Murder She Wrote/Youtube)

It is also important to remember that any activity is better than none. Sstarting small and increasing can be a good strategy if you’re not used to physical activity – five minutes a day is better than no minutes a day.

It can also be helpful to think of physical activity as a way to bond with others. Our research on children’s perceptions of confinement last year showed that kids really appreciate the simple things – just spending time and having fun with them is what really matters. Physical activity can help us connect with family – in person or online – which can be particularly important for people living independently and older family members, with research showing the importance of social connections for the elderly during lockdowns.

Here are eight fun activities to get you moving during lockdown:

1) For homeschoolers, challenge the children to set up an activity trail. Have them research which muscle groups are exercised at each “station,” time family members as they pass through the station, and use this information to generate statistics and write reports. Mathematics, science, writing and physical activity, it’s done!

2) An idea for those with a more artistic bent: a friend and her family created the masterpiece below during a lockdown in 2020. Create your own exercise-focused snakes and ladders game, roll the dice, and try it out (don’t forget to include water and recovery breaks).

A glorious example of Snakes and Ladders exercise. Photo and illustration: Nicola Kayes.

3) What better time than confinement to learn te reo and be active while doing it? To verify Whaitiri Poutama’s kapa haka lessons, great fun for the whole family.

4) Raise your hand looking at the daily presser? Great, now keep both hands up and wave them every time someone says “thank you” on the show. If you’re looking for inspiration, this daily presser workout I came across on social networks might help. Include goals like five-star jumps every time someone says “place of interest” or five crunches for every “be nice,” and you’ll get active in no time.

5) Thank goodness Facetime, Zoom, Skype, Teams and speakers are helping us stay connected during lockdowns. Call your loved ones and try it card game practice together. If you don’t have a deck of cards, create some makeshift ones – the key idea is that there’s an exercise for every suit (think bicep curls for hearts, squats for clubs), and the number determines how many reps you need to do. Choose activities that are doable for everyone and have households take turns being the card callers.

6) There are plenty of no-equipment home workouts worth trying online. Activities like squats, lunges, push-ups, crunches, yoga, and stretches can be done without any equipment. A chair and cans or bottles will help if you want to add weight or complexity. You can even do workouts using just a towel or elastic band. The NHS has 24 instructor-led videos in different categories for aerobic activity, strength and resistance, pilates and yoga. The MS Society has great seated workouts. For kids, GoNoodle has lots of fun activities (they are also fun for adults). If higher intensity activity is your thing, look up HIIT (hhigh intensity interval training) – there are a range of options that does not require any equipment.

7) If you prefer the slower pace of yoga, you won’t be short of online options. Yoga with Adrienne and Yoga with Tim are some favorites, and there are even great yoga videos for kids.

8) What better time to do some spring cleaning? Yes, housework counts as an activity – add some competition with each person in your bubble having a different job to do in a given time.

Finally, engaging with the outdoors whenever possible is key. If you have a garden or green space at home, try to be active in those spaces as much as possible. Failing that, just opening the window and looking outside while active is worth a try. Finish by sitting or lying down for a minute or two taking in the smells and sounds of nature. Overall, the most important thing is that we take care of ourselves and get through this together.

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