Stay home but exercise
The coronavirus pandemic has changed everyone’s lives. People who kept fit by walking, running, swimming, cycling or going to the gym are now confined to their homes. It requires a lot of motivation to exercise at home.
Exercise first thing in the morning, even if it means getting up a little earlier. Interruptions are less likely then. And it will give structure to an otherwise empty day. Also, there you will feel good because of all the mood-elevating chemicals released from your muscles.
Any exercise should be preceded by a warm-up. Marching in place for 2-5 minutes can do this. It gets the muscles ready for exercise. It does not shock or jolt them suddenly and decreases the likelihood of injury.
If you have invested in an electrical treadmill, cross-trainer or exercise cycle at home, then getting on it for 40 minutes day will do the trick. The number of calories expended depends on your weight, time spent and the distance covered. It is usually around 400 calories per hour. Running or pedalling faster will increase the distance covered in that time and hence the calories spent as well.
You do not need fancy or expensive equipment to exercise. You can walk at home, in a room, balcony, hallway or terrace. “Infinity walking” was discovered by the western world recently. It is an ancient Indian practice and means walking in the figure of eight. The space required needs to be only 10ft by 6ft. Even a smaller area will work though it is not ideal. After walking for 15 minutes clockwise, change the direction and walk anticlockwise for the next 15 minutes.
Traditionally, the walk should be south to north, towards and against the earth’s magnetic field. Walking in an 8 means that as the body twists and turns constantly, the eye-brain-leg coordination invoked improves balance. Walking in a straight line activates mainly the muscles of the legs and buttocks. The continuous changing direction in infinity walking also uses the muscles of the ankles, abdomen, hip, shoulders, neck, head and arms.
If time is of the essence, climbing stairs at a brisk pace uses 800 to 1,000 calories per hour or 0.2 calories per step (20 steps = 4 calories) if you climb up and then down again. It is safer to run up and walk down to prevent falls. Running up sideways adds intensity to the workout. If you have only a single step and not a whole staircase, step up with the right foot and down with your left. Then alternate the legs. Seven to eight minutes of non-stop stair climbing can reduce the risk of a heart attack by 50 per cent.
Skipping is not just for children. It is an excellent exercise for all ages. It requires an even smaller space than walking. The floor area required is 4ft by 6ft, with a height of one foot above your head, free of furniture and carpet. Sports shoes should be used to reduce the impact. You don’t even really need a rope. Just doing the action with arms and legs is enough. It burns about 600 calories per hour.
In order to get health benefits from exercise, the maximum heart rate needs to be calculated. This is 220 minus age. Ideally, you should achieve and maintain 55-85 per cent of this for 30 minutes.
Strengthening the body is very important. If you do not have dumbbells, lift filled one-litre bottles instead and do three sets of 10 repetitions.
Even if you were a couch potato earlier, reap the benefits of being home-bound and start moving today.
The writer is a paediatrician with a family practice at Vellore and the author of Staying Healthy in Modern India. If you have any questions on health issues please write to firstname.lastname@example.org