PSA: You don’t need the gym to stay active or sane during a global pandemic

August 25, 2020 by Lizzie Briasco

natureGyms closing may actually be a blessing in disguise. 

Fellow food and fitness professionals, fervent self-proclaimed gym rats, and fat-phobic fearmongers of the “quarantine fifteen” (a phrase that belongs in the trash alongside “cheat meals” and “empty calories”) may consider the above statement blasphemous, but I stand by it. Don’t get me wrong – as a former competitive athlete and current certified specialist in sports dietetics (CSSD), I appreciate the myriad physical and psychological benefits movement allows, as well as the sense of community, camaraderie, routine, and progress various gyms can provide. And, as a dietitian who has fully recovered from my own eating disorder and supports others in their journeys of the same pursuit, I also believe that we can take care of, strengthen, and respect our bodies by exploring movement in different ways!

I think it’s safe to say that most of this year has been nothing short of a clusterduck. A global pandemic, subsequent quarantine, many parents becoming newly-minted home-school teachers, civil unrest, and Yeezy casting his election bid for president exemplify how 2020 is turning out to be a year full of stressful surprises – most of which we could have never even imagined. It has been increasingly difficult to take care of ourselves amidst the “new norm” and many of us have probably hit our breaking point multiple times. Moving your body in a mindful way, which means engaging in the present moment without judgment, can be a wonderful way to de-stress and break up the monotony of your day. The good news is, this is totally doable while most gyms remain closed!

Thinking of ways to stay active outside the gym may in fact encourage you to explore more enjoyable forms of exercise and develop a happier, more sustainable relationship with movement and your body. Before calorie-tracking apps and arbitrary step goals existed, the vast majority of people moved in ways that felt less regimented, less structured, less obligatory – and more as a part of their daily lives. More neutral. More fun. More as an activity and a part of living, and less as a chore and a part of compensating.

Some days you might want to do some high-intensity movement because you feel energized and want to get that energy out. Other days, you may feel “blah” and gentle movement might be a more realistic way of taking care of yourself. These tidbits can help you navigate the days ahead.

  • Remember your intention. Are you moving your body to increase blood flow, decrease stress, condition your lungs, strengthen your muscles, get out of the house, or a combination of any of the above?
  • Variety is the spice of life. And necessary to prevent boredom and burn-out! This applies to many things, and definitely includes movement. Now is the perfect time to try something new if you previously found yourself using the same five machines!
  • Practice some self-compassion. Concerns around job security, finances, relationships, loved ones, and more have led to enough stress as is. Remember that you are doing the best you can, and 5-10 minutes of movement is still movement. If you’re able to include several shorter activities throughout the day, those minutes add up.
  • Remember that this is temporary. Nobody can really say for how much longer, but the barbells and squat rack will be patiently waiting for you if you choose to return to them.

So, how can you start incorporating movement into your “new norm”? Here are some ideas to get started.

  • Get outside when you can. As part of your morning routine, in between Zoom meetings and classes, on your lunch break, after you clock out for the day…a change of scenery and time away from screens can help you decompress and remember that this rock we all call home is still turning, even if it doesn’t feel like it right now. The trees are still standing tall, flowers are still blooming, and bugs have yet to return to the brimstone from whence they came. Make a point to breathe the fresh air – not just smell it, but a real, honest-to-goodness deep belly breath, in through your nose and out through your mouth. Do that several times and you might experience a brief sense of calm and peace (woah, what are those?!).
  • Yoga or stretch when you can. Stretching increases flexibility and encourages deep breathing and body connection, all of which help decrease stress and improve mindfulness. Think of times when you default to sitting still – between Zoom calls, while unwinding and watching TV, etc – and how you can include some gentle yoga or stretching to get your blood flowing.
  • Intentionally explore nature and what your local area has to offer. Individually or with a group of close friends – socially-distanced, of course. Walk along the beach, explore local hiking trails, go paddle-boarding or kayaking, have a picnic, and walk, bike, or rollerblade around a local park. Take your pick!
  • Play with kids or your own inner child. Despite all we’ve been conditioned to believe, movement has no age limits. No decree is made once you hit a certain age that says exercise is limited to the treadmill, elliptical, spin-bike, or any other stationary machine. Having fun with movement doesn’t make it any less effective. Tag, Twister, virtual games (Wii sports, Switch), dancing, rollerblading, hula-hooping, rock-climbing, skate-boarding, and kicking or throwing a ball around are just some ideas to get your heartrate up without even thinking about it.
  • Bring your favorite equipment to you. While exploring options naturally available to us outside of the gym can be fun and effective, you may still want to do some exercises that are really only doable with certain tools. Get creative by using what’s already available around your house (compost-filled buckets, water jugs, etc) or by buying smaller, cost-effective equipment you can use at home (dumbbells, resistance bands, med balls, etc). This may mean doing more resistance, body-weight, and free weight exercises instead of using machines, and that’s ok; you are still able to strengthen and challenge yourself, even if it looks a little different than what you’re used to!

Whatever you choose to do, I invite you to embrace this time of opportunity to play outside, stay curious, and shake up your usual routine!

Lizzie Briasco, MSc, RD, CSSD, LDN, is a certified sports dietitian who strives to live boldly and passionately and works toward empowering others to do the same through food, movement, and body respect.

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