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man in a sweaty headban stretching on a yoga mat
Exercise: for everyone, any time, anywhere Image: Getty Images, additional design by Tina Tiller

SocietyAugust 31, 2021

How to juggle physical activity with life in lockdown

man in a sweaty headban stretching on a yoga mat
Exercise: for everyone, any time, anywhere Image: Getty Images, additional design by Tina Tiller

Is your silly little walk feeling sillier by the day? Associate professor Melody Smith from the University of Auckland’s School of Nursing has some ways to get active in lockdown without getting bored.

Here we are again Aotearoa, navigating working from home, childcare, teaching, checking in with others, working on our epidemiology skills, keeping up with cute pet videos, searching for toilet paper and flour, and baking, lots of baking. Let’s not forget keeping an eye on the clock for the 1pm presser – such good viewing it’s even got its own reviews on IMDB. And while we are making small-talk, how about that weather eh? While we love the rain for the gardens, there’s been quite a bit of it of late and the skies have felt a little more grey than usual. 

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

Physical activity is key to supporting our wellbeing during lockdown. Physical activity isn’t just fundamental to our physical wellbeing, it also supports mental wellbeing and can help us connect with each other – all of which can help us get through these challenging times. Being active daily can even help you sleep better, and getting fresh air and interacting with nature can help boost the benefits of physical activity and support mental wellbeing.

Physical activity is key in lockdown. (Screengrab: Kath & Kim/Youtube, additional design by Tina Tiller)

While lockdowns can make it harder for us to be physically active, now is arguably a more important time than ever to start a physical activity habit. But on top of the physical restrictions we’ve become familiar with, the delta variant has complicated things even more. Mask wearing and physical distancing can make outdoor activity more challenging, yet 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 lockdown time to focus on cross-training at home, or trying out some injury prevention workouts

Some might be unable to get outside, or be feeling anxious about leaving the house. Others might not have a lot of space or equipment for being active at home. And, besides, who has the time and energy for keeping active when we’re juggling all these extra roles and the mental load of navigating Covid-19 and associated lockdowns? Just thinking about adding physical activity to the growing “should do” list can make it a pretty unattractive option. 

It can be helpful to think of physical activity as a time for giving your mind a break from any stress and anxiety you are feeling, rather than seeing it as another job to do. Really focusing on the activity you are doing (like doing a body scan while exercising – how does it feel, what is my technique like, what muscles can I feel, how is my breathing going?) can help calm your mind and reduce these feelings. Scheduling in time to be active can help keep you on track and it will be one small part of the day that you feel that you have control over, which can also help your mental wellbeing.

Angela Lansbury demonstrates an example of walking. (Screengrab: Murder She Wrote/Youtube)

It’s also important to remember that any activity is better than none. Starting small and building up might be a good strategy if you aren’t in the habit of physical activity – five minutes a day is better than no minutes a day. 

It can be helpful too to think of physical activity as a way of connecting with others. Our research on kids’ lockdown perceptions last year showed kids really appreciated the simple things – just hanging out and having fun with them is what really matters. Physical activity can help us connect with family – either in person or online – which can be especially important for those living independently and older family members, with research showing the importance of social connections for older adults during lockdowns.

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

1) For those homeschooling, challenge the kids to set up an activity course. Get them to research what muscle groups are being exercised at each “station”, time family members getting through the station, and use this information to generate statistics and write up reports. Maths, science, writing, and physical activity, done!

2) An idea for those with more of an artistic bent: a friend and her family created the masterpiece below during a 2020 lockdown. Create your own exercise-focused snakes and ladders game, roll the dice and give it a go (remember to include the water and recovery breaks).

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

3) What better time than lockdown to learn te reo and get active while doing it? Check out Whaitiri Poutama’s kapa haka lessons, awesome fun for the whole family.

4) Hands up who watches the daily presser? Great, now keep both hands up and wave them about every time someone says “thank you” on the show. If you’re looking for inspiration, this daily presser workout that I came across on social media might help. Include goals like five star jumps every time someone says “location of interest” or five crunches for every “be kind”, and you’ll be getting active in no time. 

5) Thank goodness for Facetime, Zoom, Skype, Teams and speakerphones to help us stay connected during lockdowns. Give loved ones a call and try out the deck of cards workout together. If you don’t have a deck of cards, create some makeshift ones – the key idea is there is one exercise for each suit (think bicep curls for hearts, squats for clubs), and the number determines the number of repetitions you have to do. Choose activities that are feasible for everyone, and have households take turns being the card callers.  

6) There are lots of equipment-free home workouts worth a try online. Activities like squats, lunges, press-ups, crunches, yoga, and stretching can be done with no equipment at all. A chair and some cans or bottles will help if you want to add some weight or complexity. You can even do workouts using just a towel or stretchy band. The NHS has 24 instructor-led videos in different categories for aerobic activity, strength and resistance, pilates and yoga. The MS Society has some excellent seated workouts. For kids, GoNoodle has loads of fun activities (they are fun for adults too). If higher intensity activity is your thing, search for HIIT (high-intensity interval training) workouts – there are a range of options that require no equipment

7) If you prefer the slower pace of yoga, you won’t be short of options online. Yoga with Adriene and Yoga with Tim are a couple of favourites, and there’s even great yoga videos for kids.

8) What better time to get a bit of spring cleaning done? Yes housework counts as activity – add a bit of competition with each person in your bubble having a different job to do in a set time. 

Finally, engaging with the outdoors whenever possible is key. If you have a garden or any green space at home, try to be active in these spaces as much as possible. Failing that, even just opening the window and looking out while being active is worth a try. Finish off with 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’re looking after ourselves and getting through this together.

Keep going!