No question, we’re experiencing a universal upheaval of our daily routines and an increase in stress as we navigate our new normal. But as many Nordic skiers already know: anxiety, depression and tension have a way of evaporating in the midst of a good workout.
Why? It’s a shortcut to feelings of relaxation and optimism. A good workout brings adrenaline and cortisol in check as well as boosts endorphins, our natural pain killers and mood elevators. Plus focusing on a single task is relaxing, and the sense of accomplishment after a good exercise session boosts our self-esteem and feelings of wellbeing.
So what about now, when we’re diverted from our usual workouts and recreational getaways? It’s more important than ever to make physical activity part of our routine. With a little creativity and planning, you can make it a humane—and helpful—part of your day. Here’s how.
1. Do what you love. Sometimes we get so caught up in results and goals that we opt for fitness that feels like a chore and forget what lights us up. So, if you love to dance but usually hit the gym for boot camp, consider giving yourself a break and finding an online ballet-inspired barre or Zumba class instead. Tap dancing, tennis in the driveway, horseback riding, and neighborhood walks with the dog may all be things you love.
2. Pencil it in. Schedule your exercise, preferably in the early morning, if you can. It’s easy for exercise to get swept to the back burner in the midst of juggling new routines but making it part of your daily schedule and getting it done early in the day makes it more likely to happen. In a recent study called the Midwest Exercise Trial, 2 participants who worked out in the morning lost more weight, stayed slightly more active throughout the day and ate a bit less—good news for those of us who are stress snackers.
3. Take small bites. Schedule driving you nuts? If you don’t have time for an uninterrupted workout, incremental exercise still counts. Consider doing three 10-minute sets of something throughout your day—brief walks, a quick bout of strength training like pushups and squats, or a short yoga video all add up.
4. Change it up. If you’re usually competitive, try something completely not competitive, like Pilates, or country line dancing. Just choosing something lower pressure can bring the joy back into exercise. Find a local studio streaming workouts or subscribe to an online platform.
5. Find a friend. We’re keeping socializing to a minimum and safety above all, but meeting a friend for a socially distant walk down a quiet neighborhood street is fair game. Studies show that social exercise is motivating, boosts accountability and increases the length of exercise sessions. And face it, being safely outdoors is the best way for us to get together for a little much-needed interaction these days.
6. Add yoga. If you haven’t hopped on the bandwagon, now’s the time. Aside from the benefits to your balance, strength and flexibility, yoga’s been shown to boost your immune response, more important now than ever. Add to that the mental impact—studies suggest that yoga reduces perceived stress and modulates the stress response systems, which in turn leads to reduced heart rate, lower blood pressure and ease of respiration. Even a short session can have profound results; a 10-year study on 700 participants found that just 12 minutes a day was enough to make noticeable health improvements.