There’s a reason “COVID curves” and “the Quarantine 15” are now commonplace terms. While researchers are beginning to look at the connection between the pandemic and weight gain, it’s apparent that we’re moving less during this topsy-turvy period: A preliminary study published in May and led by Iowa State University and Trinity College Dublin reported an average 32% reduction in physical activity once social distancing went into effect.
Being active is a huge health boost. It improves mood, reduces stress, increases energy, enhances brain function, lowers risk of chronic disease and so much more. And research published in medical and health journals continues to emerge supporting the idea that unless you’re training for something specific, like a marathon, short bouts of exercise throughout the day have the same benefits as continuous workouts. Here are a few ways to sneak in some extra movement.
Move While You Wait
Use the time it takes to brew coffee, warm up lunch or boil water to squeeze in mini-workouts. Rotate through 10 reps of each of these until the microwave dings.
Kitchen counter push-ups: Stand facing the counter and place your hands on the edge just slightly wider than shoulder width. Keep your arms straight and step your feet back so your body forms a plank. Keep the heels lifted, abdominal muscles engaged and back straight. Inhale and bend your elbows out to the side as you lower your chest to the counter. Exhale as you push back up.
Side lunges: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and toes pointing forward. Take a wide step out to the right as you press your hips back while keeping the left leg straight and both soles of the feet on the ground. Push yourself back to the starting position and lunge to the left.
Standing bicycle crunches: Stand tall with feet slightly wider than your hips. Interlace your hands and place them behind your head with elbows wide. Raise your right knee up as high as you can as you simultaneously twist your torso to the right and draw your left elbow to the lifted knee. Alternate between sides.
Milk jug swings: Grab a bottle of milk, water or orange juice, and make sure the lid is on firmly. Stand tall with feet hip-width apart and hold the jug with both hands. Bend your knees, shift your weight into the heels, lower the butt back and bring the jug between the legs. Drive through your heels and simultaneously straighten your legs and extend your arms horizontally in front of your chest, contracting your abdominal muscles and squeezing the glute muscles as you rise. As the jug descends, shift your weight back into the heels, hinging at the hips and returning to a slight squat.
Multitask Your Muscles
Find moments throughout the day to incorporate movement into more mundane tasks. It’s not difficult.
Toothbrush squats: Use this two-minute morning routine to wake up your lower body by squatting while you brush your teeth. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Keep your chest up, bend your knees and push your hips back until the back of your thighs are parallel with the floor. Pause so you’re not using momentum to push back up. Then, drive through your heels and press back up to standing.
Vacuum lunges: Step into a full lunge when vacuuming or mopping, and you’ll engage the lower body and abdominal muscles. As you reach the vacuum forward, step one foot forward, bend the back knee and lower straight down. Keep your torso straight and abs in as you push through the front heel, pull the vacuum back and return to standing. Alternate legs.
Dishwashing lifts: While standing at the sink, add in calf raises to tone the lower legs and glute muscles. Lift your heels and come up onto the balls of your feet as high as you can. Squeeze your glute muscles at the top and lower your heels.
Toothbrush rolls: Foot massage improves circulation, decreases stress and releases endorphins, all of which promotes better sleep. Use your before-bed brush to roll out the feet. Place a tennis or similar ball under the ball of your foot. Put as much weight on it as you can tolerate, and roll the ball back and forth the length of your foot several times. Repeat with the other foot.
Walk while you talk: Take that work call outside for a walk. Start by asking if it’s OK to walk while you talk, and let them know they may hear some background noise. Be sure to use earbuds or headphones. Then pick up the pace as much as you can without huffing and puffing while you talk. If you can, aim for a speed of 3 mph (or a 20-minute mile). Lastly, remember that not every meeting is walk-and-talk appropriate.
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Zoom and Move
When you can’t slip outside for a walking meeting, turn off the video and sneak in a short desk workout or stretch session. Again, consider whether it would be appropriate for you to do so.
Trash can taps: Stand in front of a small garbage can and shift your balance to one foot and then tap the edge of the can with the other. Repeat. Speed up to make it more intense.
Triceps dips: Scoot to the edge of your chair (make sure it’s stationary). Place palms flat on the edge of the chair with fingers facing forward. Lower yourself until your elbows are bent back between 45 and 90 degrees. Keep your back straight and close to the chair. Press into your palms to straighten your arms and return to the starting position. Repeat 10 times.
The prayer: Sit upright with both feet flat on the floor. Bring your hands together in a prayer position in front of your chest. Push your hands together as actively as you can for 30 to 60 seconds and release.
Wall sit: Stand with your back against a wall. Walk your feet out and slide your body down until your hips are level with your knees and your knees are at a 90-degree angle. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds and release.
Standing hamstring curls: Stand in front of your desk and lightly hold onto the edge for support. Shift your weight onto your left leg, bend your right knee and bring your heel to your butt. Lower the foot. Repeat 10 times and switch legs.
Interrupt Your Regularly Scheduled Sitting
Use your binge-watching TV time to your advantage. Instead of skipping the closing credits, recap and opening credits, rotate through 10 reps of these couch moves until the show returns.
Couch climbers: Face the sofa and place your hands on the seat at shoulder width and step back to create a straight line with your body. Engage your abs, squeeze your glute muscles and push the heels back. Hold this plank position for 10 seconds. Then draw one knee and then the other to your chest as if you were running. Repeat for 30 seconds.
Hip thrusts: Start in an elevated bridge position with your upper back resting on the seat of the couch, feet on the floor and knees bent. Interlace your hands behind your head, hinge at the hips to lower your bottom to the ground and squeeze the glute muscles to lift back up to starting position. Repeat 10 times.
Decline push-up: Come into a high plank position with your feet on the edge of the sofa and your hands on the floor at shoulder width. Lower your chest toward the ground by bending your elbows out to the side. Push up to the starting position. This is an advanced push-up variation so do as many as you can without compromising your form.
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