HEALTH MATTERS 4/17: Staying Physically Active During COVID-19


By Denise M. Wyers

If your normal exercise routine has been upended by the COVID-19 pandemic, you’re not alone.

Millions of gym-goers, fitness center enthusiasts and others are being forced to find new, creative ways to stay physically active while staying home.

The World Health Organization (WHO) notes that during the COVID-19 pandemic when so many people are very restricted in their movements, it is even more important to be as active as possible.

Exercise helps reduce the risk for heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and other diseases and it also serves to reduce stress and anxiety by boosting those feel-good hormones called endorphins.

So how can you stay physically active, while also staying safe?

Start with these practical tips from the Hamilton Area YMCA, a partner of Penn Medicine Princeton Health.

No weights? No problem. Gallon water jugs, bottles of laundry detergent or soup cans make for great weights and add an extra level of intensity to any workout.

Stairs are awesome for cardio.  If you have stairs in your home, you can get a cardio workout just walking up and down a few times. Carry around any heavy objects while you do, and you’ve added weight resistance.

Use a chair for dips. Any chair can be used for dips. Place hands on both front corners of the seat, extend your legs, bend your elbows to lower yourself down, then straighten your arms to raise yourself back up.

Use the same chair for push-ups. Place your hands on the seat and extend your legs, lower your chest to the chair, then raise yourself back up.

Or try counter-top push-ups. Stand back, put your hands on the edge of the counter, and do some half push-ups.

Books are great for your core. Place a heavy, hardcover book on your chest when doing crunches to add an extra level of tension to an already difficult exercise. Or, lie on your back, arms above you, book in hand, and use your stomach muscles to raise your shoulders off the ground, targeting your lower abs.

Use a paper plate or dishrag for lunges. Stand on hard floor with one foot on a plate or rag, slide your leg back and bend your knee until your opposite knee bends to about a 90-degree angle, then slide back up.

Jumping jacks.  See how many you can do during one or two commercials while you’re watching television.

Also keep in mind that exercise can come in all different shapes and forms. Playing with your children or pets, dancing, gardening, and even house cleaning are all great forms of exercise.

Going for a walk, run or bicycle ride outdoors are good ways to stay active. Just remember, it is important that you check local and state government guidelines about restrictions in your community and practice social distancing by staying at least six feet away from others. Wash your hands as soon as you return home.

Additionally, many gyms and other fitness outlets are now offering live classes online. Taking a virtual fitness class can help keep you healthy and connected to the community. Fitness apps that you can download to your phone are also another tool to help keep you moving.

Whatever you do, make it part of your normal, daily routine. Setting a specific time to be active helps ensure you get your daily dose of exercise.

The WHO also offers these suggestions for staying safe while you exercise:

• Do not exercise if you have a fever, cough or difficulty breathing. Stay home, rest and call your physician if your symptoms worsen.

• If you are not regularly active, start slowly and with low-intensity activities. Start with shorter increments, like five or 10 minutes and gradually build up to 30 minutes or more continuously over a few weeks. It is better and safer to be active for short periods more frequently than to try and be active for long periods when you are not used to exercising.

• Choose the right intensity according to your health status and fitness level. You should be able to breathe comfortably and hold a conversation while you do light and moderate-intensity physical activity.

The Hamilton Area YMCA offers a daily a newsletter that leads with a workout ranging from Zumba to yoga, to stretching, strengthening, and more. To sign up for the newsletter and for daily workouts, hints and tips, visit

As the effects of COVID-19 are felt throughout Central Jersey, Penn Medicine Princeton Health remains committed to providing high-quality, comprehensive care to the community 24/7. To learn more, visit

Denise M. Wyers is the senior director of marketing and special events for the Hamilton Area YMCA, a partner of Penn Medicine Princeton Health.