- Keep Well
- Physical wellbeing
- Physical Activity
Why Do Physical Activity?
During the current Covid-19 pandemic, staying at home for prolonged periods of time can pose a significant challenge for remaining physically active. Sedentary behaviour and low levels of physical activity can have many negative effects on our health, well-being and quality of life. Regular physical activity is one of the best things you can do for your overall health particularly at this time with extensive benefits including better brain health, disease prevention, enhanced immunity, weight management, improved bone health and muscle strength as well as increased longevity. Additionally, there is enhanced mental well-being including positive self-esteem and reduced anxiety, improved self-confidence and peer acceptance. Regular exercise can aid better sleep, manage stress, boost your mood, improve memory and help concentrate better. https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/pa-health/index.htm
How Much Physical Activity Should I Do?
This differs for everyone and it's important you only undertake what feels right for you currently depending on factors such as your previous exercising experience, if you are studying for exams, etc. The WHO recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity per week, or a combination of both. These recommendations can still be achieved even at home, with no special equipment and with limited space.
- 150 mins a week (5x30min sessions, 3x50min sessions)
- Build it up slowly over 30 days
- Fit it feasibly into weekly routine (morning vs evening, walk to college, take stairs, get off bus earlier).
- Pick exercise you enjoy: classes vs. gym, alone vs. company, intense vs. normal, indoors vs. outdoors
Some further resources
What Intensity Should I Exercise At?
There are a number of ways to gauge the intensity of activity, via your breathing rate, heart rate or your own rating of perceived exertion (RPE). Check out the CDC website for guidance on using these.
What are the best activities to do?
The ideal activity/activities for anyone is what you enjoy doing and will undertake on a regular basis. The following are the some of the easiest and most simple to do.
Track your steps using a smart watch or pedometer and set a daily goal eg. building up to 10,000 steps per day, or go for distance. This can easily be performed outside in the fresh air. For some added intensity try including regular periods of running throughout your walk eg. walk 4 minute, run 1 minute and repeat.
One of the best cardio activities. If you are new to running then start with some walk/jog sessions and build up the distance/duration gradually. There are many "Couch to 5K" programs to follow - see the NHS guide to starting jogging to get started.
If you don't feel like exercising then dancing to some music might be the answer!
Great for the body and the mind, and requires limited space to practice. Total beginners or experts can follow Youtube videos, or purchase a book of yoga poses to work from. There is also a range of apps that will guide you through a virtual yoga class. Yoga is perfect for anyone who is feeling anxious, as it will focus your mind on your breathing and poses.
An ideal complement to any cardio training regime is to work on muscular strength. This can be entirely body weight based or using bands, kettle bells, dumbells, etc. Ideally this could be done several times weekly. If you are new to this type of training then start with only 10-15 minutes at most and gradually build to longer sessions.
The Mardyke Arena, University College Cork, has created (and continues to create) excellent videos for home workouts.
Additional Tips for Staying Active
The following are some practical tips on how to stay active and reduce sedentary behaviour whilst at home in self-quarantine:
- Take short active breaks during the day. Short bouts of physical activity can easily add up to the weekly recommendations. These may include dancing, jogging on the spot, a short Pilates session, playing with children, as well as performing some physical domestic chores such as hoovering and gardening.
- Listen to music as you exercise. Whether you are out for a walk, or doing some exercise at home, listen to your favourite music for motivation.
- Follow an online exercise class. Avail of the extensive range of free online exercise classes to be found on YouTube. If you have no experience performing these exercises, be cautious and aware of your own limitations.
- Stand up. Reduce your sedentary time by standing up whenever possible. Ideally, aim to interrupt sitting and reclining time every 30 minutes. Consider setting up a standing desk by using a high table or stacking a pile of books or other material. During sedentary leisure time prioritize cognitively stimulating activities, such as reading, board games, and puzzles.
- Walk. Even in small spaces, walking around or walking on the spot, can help you remain active. If you have a call, stand up or walk around your home while you talk. If you decide to go outside to walk or exercise, be sure to maintain at least a 2-meter distance from other people, and there are extra benefits if you can take a short walk in nature.
Keeping Cork Healthy
The Mardyke Arena UCC is also partnering with The Echo to bring you the "Keeping Cork Healthy" series. This series brings nutrition tips, recipes, tips from Cork athletes, activity for older adults and lots more.
Advice for more Active Individuals
If you are a seasoned competitive athlete/player the key focus during the current lockdown should be on staying healthy and reamining physically active. It's pointless trying to stay in top physical condition as you would during your competition/play season. Instead use this time to focus on a regular, balanced and varied training regime that you enjoy and maintains good basic fitness. At the same time you can use this period as an opportunity to address aspects of your technique in your sport, try out some new training sessions, and work on any injury prone areas you have had over recent years.
Key tips are:
- Remain active - this is key as it's what you are used to. While social distancing may prevent you from training with others or going to the gym/pool you can still maintain and improve your fitness at home.
- Do bodyweight exercises - these are ideal for maintaining strength and preventing injury. These can be done indoors, in the back garden or when you are away from home doing a jog. These include squats and squat jumps, reverse lunges, single-leg squats, glute bridges, front and side planks, press-ups, dips, deadbugs, sit ups, jumping jacks, burpees and crunches. Aim for 20-30 seconds in each followed by a short rest of up to 30 seconds.
- Go for a solo run/jog outside - easily one of the best ways to maintain your aerobic capacity but make sure you stay within the required distance of your home. Try to use areas less crowded and integrate some change of pace using walk/jog/run/sprint. Finding a hill of ~5-10% and doing some efforts of ~20-60 seconds can be a great way to add some strength/anaerobic training.
- Perform flexibility and mobility sessions - another area that can be a focus during the restrictions is to integrate some foam rolling and static stretching to maintain good range of motion.
- Do some cross training - try including some activities you wouldn't do in your normal training routine such as going for a short bike ride, doing a Pilates session, a Yoga class, some circuits, as these can be a fun alternative way to stay physically active.
Further resources for Active Individuals
Select the options below for
- Exercise tips forinjury prevention during the study period,
- Acute injury management should you get injured (PRICE Wars method)
- Tips for study posture while studying
Movement is medicine!
A study in the British journal of psychology (in 2018) outlined the importance of movement and exercise. The researchers concluded that 15mins of aerobic exercises was enough to boost the brains thinking ability and memory. Not only this, they also found that standing as opposed to sitting can also boost brain power too. Aim to move every 45-50mins. This can be as simple as walking to the kitchen to get a cup of tea or coffee. Cardio for 15mins can be done as a brisk walk, run, cycle or high-intensity-interval-training (HIIT) session in your room.
Certain areas of our body will get tighter and stiffer the longer we sit. For example, our neck, lower back, hip flexors and hamstring will feel stiff/tight after spending a few hours at the desk. Stretching regularly will help to counteract this. Static stretching is the most basic. Aim to hold the stretch for approx. 30 seconds and repeat 3 times.
The Gun Show
Don’t forget the strength work! Our muscles like being long and strong. Simple bodyweight exercises 3 times a week (try 10 repetitions x 3 sets) can work wonders for keeping your muscles strong. Examples of bodyweight exercises are squats, lunges, glute bridges, calf raises, planks, press ups, sit-ups. There are multiple variations of all of these exercises so start at a level that you are comfortable with and aim to increase gradually each week or as the exercises become easier.
No Pain, No Gain???
Your muscles need to feel like they are being worked. The feeling of fatigue, discomfort or exertion is totally normal and what you should be aiming for on each workout. However, if you are feeling pain then it’s better to stop and get advice on what you’re doing from a trained specialist. This can be from a chartered physiotherapist, strength and conditioning coach, exercise physiologist etc.
10% = A+
Follow the 10% rule. For example, if you normally walk/run/cycle 5km and you would like to increase your distance, you should only increase by 10% (or 500m) for the next 2-3 sessions. Your body will adapt to the new distance and then you can increase by a further 10% etc. This applies to all the variables of training such as distance, weight, intensity, time, frequency.
Study Posture - Injury prevention while you study
Exercise is used by many of us as an escape during the exam period. During this global pandemic, enforced restrictions means exercise is as important as ever to maintain both our mental and physical health. Research has highlighted that sustained periods of prolonged static postures will increase the likelihood of injury when exercising. This applies whether you sustain good, bad or awkward postures for long periods of time. Regular movement is Key!
- Use a proper chair. Find the most supportive chair in the house. The couch or recliner doesn’t count!
- Sit into the back of your chair, with your feet flat on the floor
- If you have an adjustable chair. Get the height of your chair right. You want your knees at 90 degrees. If the chair is too high or low, this may encourage you to sit with your legs crossed or sit on your legs leading to a slumped back
Consider a Foot Stool
- If by sitting back into the chair correctly means your feet don’t lay flat on the floor then get something to support your feet
- Often we sit forward in the chair simply to have our feet reach the floor. This means our muscles need to do all of the work to support our back
- Even the modest kitchen chair will have a back on it designed to support our bodies. Use it!
- If you have a chair with good lumbar support make sure you sit back into your chair to reap the benefit
- If you don’t have a lumbar support, try a rolled up towel or cushion in the small of your back. If you can maintain the natural curve of your lower back it will maintain correct posture for your upper back and neck
Don’t Study in Bed.
- There’s a temptation when using a laptop to study from bed. Don’t do it. Get a chair and see points above.
Raise your Screen to Eye Level
- The top of your screen should be at or just below eye level
- Use books, empty shoe box or whatever you can to elevate your screen height. This will prevent slumping, head forward and rounded shoulders
Don’t forget your arms and shoulders
- Where possible use a chair with arm rest which allow you to keep your elbows at 90 degrees
- If possible use a separate moveable keyboard. The keyboard on your laptop restricts the positioning of your body by being attached to the screen. A separate keyboard would enable you to maintain good sitting or standing posture while studying.
Avoid repetitive rotation
- If working between textbook and laptops, or turning from screen to write notes be aware of repetitive rotation, of both the neck and back
- Make sure to swap sides regularly. Moving the textbook/notebook position, will ensure you are not turning in the one direction repeatedly over extended periods of time.
Take regular breaks
- Sometimes if you are slow to get started or prone to procrastination there is a tendency to work through breaks to make up for it. Your body needs the change of position. Be as disciplined as possible. Set an alarm if you have to
Try a standing Desk!
- I know we don’t all have an adjustable desk or standing desk lying around at home! We do however have a kitchen counter top, Ironing board, cardboard box or stacked books to raise our laptop height to allow us study while in standing
- You still want the top of you screen at or just below eye level and your elbows at 90 degrees
- Standing up will change your posture putting different muscles in use even though you are carrying out the same tasks. Try it!
PRICE Wars - Acute injury management should you get injured
If you are unfortunate to injure yourself during this difficult period, you can self-manage by following the guidance below:
P = Protect. Look after the injured area. Use crutches/slings/bandage/split etc for the first 2-3 days as required. These should not be used as a long-term solution. Seek the advice of a trained professional.
R = Rest. This allows the injured area time to heal without placing too much stress on the damaged tissues. Rest for 2-3 days as required and then gradually start introducing gentle movement.
I = Ice. Regularly apply cold to the injured area for ~15mins every 2-3 hours to reduce swelling and bruising. A frozen bag of peas, ice pack, ice-cubes in a bag will do the job. Remember not to place this directly onto the skin as you may give yourself an ice burn. put a protective barrier between your body and the cold pack, i.e. wrap the bag of frozen peas in a damp tea towel.
C = Compression. This is to limit swelling and movement. Use an elastic bandage or tubular elasticated bandage. Remember, do not wear this over-night.
E = Elevate. Rest the injured area above the level of your heart. For example, if you have injured your leg, try lying on the sofa with your feet on cushions.