With public parks and gyms closed and organized activities canceled by COVID-19 mandates, finding ways – and motivation – to remain active can be a challenge.
But according to Donna Krug, K-State Extension Cottonwood District director and Family and Consumer Science agent, it is still crucial to remain active in order to maintain both your physical and emotional health.
“I have never felt worse after I got back from exercising,” Krug said. “You will never regret time spent doing some physical activity.”
From a physical standpoint, for healthy individuals, Krug noted exercise can actually help strengthen the body’s immune system and help it fight off illness more effectively.
But, especially in high-stress times like most are currently experiencing, Krug said exercise is a vital cog in looking after your emotional well-being. Finding a physical activity you enjoy doing can be an effective treatment for dealing with stress, depression or the doldrums.
“Even if you’re just feeling a little blue, exercise can be a very good antidote for that,” she said.
But exercise is only part of the overall health equation. Krug emphasized maintaining healthy eating habits and healthy sleeping habits are also crucial to self-care, especially during these times.
“I think it’s like a three-legged stool,” Krug said. “All of those things have to happen in order to improve our overall health.”
Krug encourages people to exercise caution, however, when implementing physical activity into their routines, and be mindful of their physical limitations.
“Make sure you tailor the exercise to your own physical abilities,” Krug said.
For example, individuals with chronic joint pain should limit physical activity that does not negatively impact those condition, such as using a stationary bike at home.
Moderate to vigorous activity is not recommended for those experiencing symptoms of illness. If you are not feeling well, dial back your activity level.
Even for healthy individuals, now is not the time to begin a vigorous or ambitious exercise program. The goal should be to maintain fitness through mild to moderate physical activity.
“For someone who’s not been exercising regularly, you don’t want to start a hard core exercise program. You just want to ease into it,” she said.
A good goal for most healthy individuals is to aim for 30 minutes a day, five days a week, of mild to moderate exercise, which is what the K-State Extension is encouraging through its Walk Kansas program. The program, which runs from March 15 through April 9, is still taking place.
With kids learning from home, adults working from home, and activity options more limited, instituting these habits can take a little more creativity. There are several options available for those still wanting to be outdoors with a statewide stay-at-home order in place.
Walking and jogging outdoors are still viable options as long as 6-foot social distances are maintained.
As spring rolls around, gardening and planting flowers either as an individual or as a family can be a positive way to spend time outdoors.
Outdoor family activity times are even more important as social gatherings with friends and other members of the community are curtailed. Along with gardening, she suggested activities such as kicking a ball around in the yard, walking around the block as a family, or going on a family bike ride, as long as appropriate social distances are maintained outside the family unit.
Even housework, she said, can provide physical activity, and light housework could be an ideal activity for at-risk members of the population who may not be able to get outdoors.
She cautioned at-risk individuals who have not previously had an activity routine to maintain light activity levels, as beginning more vigorous activity too fast could actually do more harm than good.
For both home-learning students and home-working parents, Krug said instituting physical activity breaks during the day is important in improving focus and helping individuals stay on-task while they are working.
Krug recommended implementing five-minute activity breaks each hour, which she said could include walking around a home or office.
“(It should be) something that gets them moving, whatever that might look like,” Krug said.
Students, she said, are often used to having the breaks built into their school days, and it can help them while learning at home, as well.
She stressed, though, along with physical activity to be sure individuals are following all hygiene and social distancing guidelines to help prevent yourself and others from getting sick.
Extension office closed to public; resources and staff still available
Although the Cottonwood District Extension office in Great Bend is closed to the public, there are still agents in the office to answer phones during regular business hours and address any pressing needs. The phone number is 620-793-1910. Individuals can also find Extension resources online at cottonwood.k-state.edu.