Keeping fit in this COVID-19 environment
Updated: Mar 25, 2020
Why you should stay fit during this pandemic and how you can do it without increasing your chances of getting sick
It all sounded like hoo-ha a couple weeks ago when people started buying out all the toilet paper they could carry but COVID-19 is currently sweeping the nation causing universities, workplaces and even gyms to shut down. I won't bang on about the disease since you should be getting your information straight from the Australian Government or The World Health Organisation rather than an online fitness blogger. Seriously, it's so easy to look up credible sources these days please DON'T get your information from chain emails that start out like this:
This is an actual email I received from my dad. Sorry for throwing you under the bus dad but with all the news you read I would have thought you would have some credible sources to share... This email claimed the virus hates the sun and you shouldn't have drinks with ice cubes in them because it likes the cold - which may be true, I don't know, but I wouldn't gamble my health on my dad's friend's friend's uncle who works in a hospital's word!
What we do know is how to protect ourselves from contracting and therefore spreading the disease which consists mainly of good hygiene and social distancing, hence many people may choose not to go to gym during this time. While I personally don't think cutting the gym out of your routine entirely is necessary I can understand why so many people are choosing to do exactly this. So do you really need to make the choice of sacrificing your fitness to keep you healthy?
No is the answer, let me show you how you can stay strong during these times.
REMINDER FOR YOUNGER PEOPLE: If you are in a low-risk category for this virus, you should still be following the social distancing laws just as much as high-risk people should. YOU may expect to experience mild flu-like symptoms but chances are you'll pass the virus on to 2-4 more people before you even know you have the symptoms. DO THIS FOR PEOPLE OTHER THAN YOURSELF! We all need to do our part to stop the spread, for the sake of those at risk if not for yourself. *Anecdotal story at the bottom of the article if you still need convincing.
Big box gyms (such as Rec Express) can hold large amounts of people who can just walk in off the street and touch everything. Smaller, personal training studios or small group training sessions are a lot more manageable to keep your distance from others as well as more manageable for the workers to wipe down every single surface with disinfectant. People are well known to staff and can be held accountable for any messes. If it's anything like the personal training studio I currently work at (link to their website) there are more disinfectant wipes than weights, you could eat off the benches here! In my very biased opinion, small boutique gyms are worth the extra cost for the added cleanliness value (let alone the quality of training).
If you must keep going to a big box gym there are a couple things you can do to reduce the infection risk: use hand sanitiser before and after your workout, wipe down equipment before and after you use it, bring a workout towel and place it over any benches or seats and finally keep your distance from others (so avoid working on the same machines or heavy lifts that require a spotter close by). If you go to a 24/7 gym it may be a good idea to go at a time when not many others are there.
Gyms in general are cleaned very well, have extra measures you can take to reduce your risk and as long as the gym isn't packed, can adhere to the social distancing rules so don't give in to the hysteria and forget about all the benefits that exercise can have!
But if things do continue on the current trend all gyms might be shut down soon...
Prepare for this and accept it now.
Why would you bother to keep exercising now?
It is widely accepted that moderate intensity exercise boosts your body's ability to fight off diseases (1). While this won't make you invincible against contracting COVID-19, it will most likely improve your outcomes. Since most people only show mild flu-like symptoms, placing your body in the best position possible to fight it will reduce the direct impact it has on your daily living. What will impair your immunological function is mental stress, undernourishment or quick weight loss which this pandemic may be bringing down on everyone, especially the mental stress. All of these can be combated by exercise (2). So don't just sit at home doing nothing but panicking, you can still get a good bout of exercise without leaving your home which will keep you healthier in both body and mind.
Besides, there are only so many Studio Ghibli movies to watch on Netflix you had better do something else to pass the time.
It's also worth mentioning that your progress at the gym won't disappear as quickly as you might think.
Here is a graph I used in my last article on recovery to show what happens to our performance when we workout. Performance decreases immediately after the stimulus (working out), the body then over-repairs the structures given good enough recovery strategies (supercompensation) to achieve what we call "the training effect": your fitness baseline gets better over time. What I didn't address in that article was the last section of the graph titled "Negative Adaptation", which occurs when there is insufficient stimulus for the muscle to be maintained so the fitness baseline drops down again. This can also be called the "Detraining effect" or as I like to call it: the "use it or lose it" principle. It is possible to maintain your baseline fitness as well, don't let the curly wurly, quadratic appearance of this theoretical graph fool you into thinking your fitness is so fickle.
Short term (less than 4 weeks) with no training at all will see very limited (if any) strength loss. Cardio will start to show decreases after 2 weeks of inactivity, so you may find your heart rate is a little bit higher doing the same intensities after that time. Power is the one aspect which will start to deteriorate quickly. (3) The good news, however, is that this is (more or less) inverse to how easy they are to train at home! Power training is performed using explosive bodyweight movements, cardio can be done with a single very cheap piece of equipment or none at all and bodyweight strength movements can still be useful for stalling any decline you might see, though they can be a little harder to set up.
Okay, I want to work out but I'm stuck at home with no equipment!
Great, then this article has done it's job. There are SO many ways to exercise without leaving your house so to make sure you find something for you I am compiling a 3 day, full body workout you can do from home (LINK HERE). In the meantime: aim for at least 20 minutes of cardio each day + resistance training on up to 5 days per week.
FUN FACT: Keep yourself happy! Science supports optimism and hope in the fight against infectious diseases. (4) Optimism and Hope in Chronic Disease: A Systematic Review - "there is evidence that individuals with greater optimism and hope seek to engage in healthier behaviors, regardless of their clinical status, and that this contributes to chronic disease treatment."
(5) Optimism of health care workers during a disaster: a review of the literature -
"optimism was found to be helpful both in daily medical work and in cases of medical emergencies. Optimism was also revealed to be one of the key components of resilience and self-efficacy. Therefore, it is recommended to consider strengthening the optimism of healthcare workers through initiative programs."
Thanks to Alan Aragon for pointing out this scientific evidence on Instagram
*I included this section because it seems a lot of people my age are not really taking the social distancing rules too seriously. I, myself wasn't taking things too seriously until I realised this: two of the people who I'm very close to work in hospitals with very high risk patients. If they were to get the virus and pass it on to their patients, it is a very large possibility that the patients will not be able to fight the virus and die. If I do get the virus then, sure I'm not too worried about myself but the best case scenario is I won't be able to see either of them for 2 weeks in fear of passing it on and the worst case scenario is I do pass it on to them and someone could literally die as a consequence. This is a serious virus. Don't think that because young people can be hardly affected by it that you don't need to worry. Take the safety precautions seriously for the safety of others.