Many international health bodies such as the World Health Organisation (WHO), the British National Health Service, the Irish Health Service Executive (HSE) and The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) are highlighting the importance of staying as active as possible, to improve our physical health and wellbeing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Our 12-week programme has been designed to reflect this advice, providing exercise classes and physical activity recommendations to help us through this challenging time. The programme will provide weekly fun and engaging exercise routines for most levels of ability, with a number of intensity options available.
We will also offer suggestions on other forms of physical activity to enjoy during these unprecedented times; pursuits as simple as a 30 minute walk, if allowable within the restrictions in place in your country of residence.
Over the next 12 weeks we will be encouraging you to reach the WHO, ACSM, HSE and UK Chief Medical Officer official guidance of 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity exercise or activity per week. For those who are already active we will recommend you build up to 30 minutes a day for five to six days a week.
The content on exercise provided on the Boutros Bear website is for general information only. You should consult your doctor before starting any exercise programme to determine if it is right for your needs. Do not start any exercise or exercise programme if your doctor advises against it. You should understand that when participating in any exercise or exercise programme, there is the possibility of physical injury. If you experience faintness, dizziness, pain or shortness of breath at any time while exercising you should stop immediately.
Prehabilitation – what is it?
The aim of our 12-week plan is to boost wellbeing, both physically and mentally by following a ‘prehabilitation’ plan. If you’ve not heard the term before, prehabilitation is the practice of ‘enhancing a patient’s functional capacity’. It is predominantly used before surgery and is starting to be adopted prior to some cancer treatments. The fundamental elements apply to us all helping us to improve our strength and wellbeing at a time when the world is facing a global health crisis. Randall Stafford PhD, Professor of Medicine at Stanford University, California explains: “Regular exercise is an effective stress management tool. Maintaining or improving your fitness level can also reduce the risk of viral infection and even the chances of severe COVID-19 complications.”
Our philosophy is to provide a practical, time-efficient approach. We believe in getting strong, being healthy, and finding the joy in being active.
To help you on your fitness journey, we have got some brilliant workouts by Amy whose inspirational sessions have already helped thousands around the world change their lives and their bodies, and more importantly, make fitness a regular part of their lives. Whether you are brand new to exercise, or an experienced athlete, this course will have a lot to offer you.
We also believe that any physical activity is better than none. So, we encourage you to begin with simple stretches, then start to move more around the house and – if your local restrictions allow – head outside for invigorating walks. This will all help you to build intensity over time, reduce periods of inactivity, and boost strength and fitness levels.
You don’t need any special equipment at all to follow our plan, though you might like to invest in a yoga mat, or you could use a towel .and some Dumbbells (Women: 3, 5 or 8Ibs or 2, 3 or 4kg / Men: 10, 12 or 15lbs or 4.5, 5 or 7kg). though soup cans would be a good alternative.
If you have a smartphone you could download one of the following Apps – but make sure you adhere to your local lockdown rules.
- Couch to 5K
- MyFitnessPal for weight tracking and food diary
A wearable fitness device for tracking exercise and heart rate would be great but not essential.
Advice for asthma sufferers
If you suffer from asthma, you are on the ‘at risk’ list for COVID-19, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take part in exercise. Dr John Dickinson, a Reader within the School of Sport and Exercise Science and Head of the Exercise Respiratory Clinic at the University of Kent, explains: “Exercise is a vital part of disease management, but people with asthma may be worried about if they should discontinue their current exercise regime.” Dr Dickinson advises this is a time for asthma sufferers to conduct ‘maintenance training’ rather than pushing the intensity into overdrive.
These are his top tips for exercising with asthma during COVID-19 uncertainty
- Ensure asthma is well controlled and you are using your prevention inhalers regularly as prescribed
- Maintain good hygiene, including regularly washing hands and reducing face touching
- Be mindful of social distancing when exercising; avoid exercising with large groups
- Be sensible with exercise intensity, this is not the time to achieve a personal best in the next six weeks
- Ensure your diet is well-balanced and avoid significant calorie reduction
Remember that every active minute counts, whether that be climbing the stairs five times a day, vacuuming the house from top to bottom, or taking an online exercise class. With the restrictions put in place by lockdown in various countries, we need to be inventive about the ways we raise our heart rate and feel the benefit of those incredible endorphins.
Easy additional activities
Ideas for getting fit indoors could include streaming feel-good music and briskly walking or dancing around the house for 10 to 15 minutes, two or three times a week; going old school with a calorie-busting skipping session (if your joints can handle it!); utilising the furniture to perform push-ups against the kitchen counter or sit-to-stands from a sturdy armchair. Outdoors, walk or jog around your neighbourhood (remembering to stay 2 metres away from others), head out for a bike ride or spend time tending to your garden, either mowing the lawn or pulling up those pesky weeds. Studies show that spending time in nature can enhance immune function, so getting outdoors to exercise is an absolute winner. Make sure you wash your hands once you are home, of course. As well as your weekly class, we will also provide a bank of workouts to try, including 10-minute strength workouts, kettlebells for those more advanced and yoga routines which combines deep breathing and mindfulness, to combat anxiety.
Why is exercise so important?
Regular exercise is a great stress management tool and can reduce the risk of viral infection, as well as the chances of severe COVID-19 complications. For older people or those who suffer chronic conditions, low-intensity exercise, such as walking, is ideal. Thirty minutes a day is the optimum. Yoga and meditation can also be calm and reinvigorating. Aside from exercise, connect with friends online (social isolation is bad for your immune system), try to get seven hours or more good quality sleep and eat healthily.
Health experts recommend we aim to achieve 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, five days a week. Moderate activity should increase your heart and breathing rate, so you may perspire a little but still be able to talk. Consequently, blitzing the house, dusting, vacuuming, and cleaning count, along with afternoon gardening. Other options for moderate activity could be using an elliptical trainer at home (if you have one), going for a bike ride if local restrictions allow, or doing a spot of ballroom dancing with your other half in the living room. Sounds like our kind of exercise!
Body weight and cardio workouts
At a time when going to the gym just isn’t an option, it’s good to know you can emulate your favourite gym machine routine by simply utilising your own bodyweight. Try our bodyweight cardio classes. This type of exercise requires multiple muscle groups to perform a specific movement (such as the dreaded plank!), so raises your heart rate, burns calories, improves strength and endurance and builds muscle. It is the perfect marriage of resistance training and cardio – and you can work at your own level. Some classic moves to include in your bodyweight blast could be push-ups (knees-on-the-ground variety for beginners up to clap and handstand push-ups for the pros), squat-jumps, lunges, tricep-dips using a chair, wall sits and even pull-ups should you have a pull-up bar in your house, or something similar.
Take a walk
Walking is the simplest way to exercise and the health benefits of walking should not be underestimated. A brisk daily stroll will help maintain a healthy weight, strengthen bones and muscles, ease joint pain, improve balance and coordination, lift your mood, boost immune function and help manage various conditions, including heart disease, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. An American Cancer Society study also showed that walking can actually reduce the risk of developing breast cancer (women that walked seven or more hours per week had a 14 per cent lower risk of breast cancer than those who walked just three hours). Why not up the ante by turning your normal walk into a fitness stride? Aim to maintain good posture, with head up, and neck, shoulders and back relaxed, arms swinging freely, stomach muscles slightly tightened and foot rolling from heel to toe. Remember, the faster and further you walk, the greater benefits. Time to download The Proclaimers’ ‘500 Miles’ to your phone and get striding, always remembering social isolation and restrictions.
Invest in dumbbells, and try our dumbbell classes
Small enough that they won’t clutter up your house – and inexpensive to boot – dumbbells are versatile, easy-to-use weights that allow you to create an assortment of workouts. If you don’t have them or can’t get hold of any, don’t worry just use soup cans instead. Depending on your health goal, you can vary the number of repetitions, amount of weight used and pace. Build muscle by using heavier weights or use lighter loads for 30 minutes or so to get your heart rate high, improving cardiovascular health. Incorporate dumbbells in an aerobics session to assist with weight loss and decrease your risk of diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, lower back pain and high blood pressure. These handy training accessories can also improve muscular endurance and increase bone density, meaning you are less likely to suffer breaks or fractures. A few tips for using dumbbells: always warm up and stretch before use to increase blood flow to the muscle so it works better; use lightweight dumbbells first and maintain good posture with a strong, straight spine to prevent injury.
Kettlebell workouts, for those already advanced in exercise give this a try
So, what is the difference between a dumbbell and a kettlebell, I hear you ask? Well, the kettlebell – which originated in 18th century Russia and is a ball of cast iron with a handle – does not have evenly distributed weight, meaning you have to counterbalance and stabilise your body, aiding core strength, balance, and coordination. As well as adding interest to training, kettlebells can improve your flexibility, up the cardio content in workouts, sculpt healthy and lean muscles, and be used to target multiple muscle groups that help with everyday tasks. The most well-known move is the explosive Russian Kettlebell Swing, but there are a multitude of others including the ab-toning Russian Twist, the shoulder-honing Sumo Upright Row and the all-body burning Lunge Press.
High Intensity Interval training – HIIT
If you prefer your exercise fast and furious, HIIT could well be your bag. Involving short bursts of intense exercise, interspersed with recovery periods, HIIT offers maximal health benefits in minimal time – so it is ideal for those with a busy schedule. Plus, research shows you can achieve more in a 15 minute interval training session (three times a week) than an hour’s steady jogging on the treadmill. Unsurprisingly, HIIT is a serious calorie-burner, the intense exertion sending the body’s repair cycle into hyperdrive, meaning you burn more calories and fat in the 24 hours after a HIIT workout than you do post-run. It also contributes to a healthier heart, increases your metabolism, and slows down the ageing process. Typically, a HIIT workout will range from 10 to 30 minutes a day for five to six days a week.
A great way to shake up your exercise routine – and take your body out of its comfort zone – is to drop in a Pyramid Training (or palindrome) session. This works by steadily ramping up (then decreasing) the intensity or reps throughout your workout. The method behind this is what is known as the ‘overload principle’, which maintains that to make fitness gains, you must boost the physical demands on your body – continually challenging your muscles. The benefits of this style of workout are many; aside from being fun, challenging and adaptable, it is time-efficient, can help with fat loss, bodybuilding and athletic training. Arnold Schwarzenegger swears by it, we hear, and his physique is testament to its effectiveness!
Dig out your legwarmers and transport yourself back to the 1980s for a sweat-busting half-hour of step aerobics! Apparently rising to popularity after fitness instructor Gin Miller was told by her doctor to step up and down on a milk crate to rehabilitate a knee injury, step aerobics is a great vigorous-intensity physical activity. Other options could be fast dances like salsa, samba or jive. This type of fun activity is beneficial as it helps shed unwanted pounds, lowers the risk of chronic diseases such as osteoporosis, coronary heart disease and certain cancers, boosts the grey matter by increasing blood flow to the brain, and inevitably makes you beam with happiness!
With fitness trainers offering a multitude of virtual workouts and so many exercise options being bandied around during lockdown, it would be easy to be overwhelmed. But give yourself a break; these are challenging times – it is so important to set realistic goals. Do not aim for perfection, just focus on doing something – because exercise is such a brilliant way to boost your immune system and improve your mental health. As a guide, aim to do two and a half hours of moderate-intensity exercise or one and a half hours of high-intensity activity per week to stay fit and healthy. Experts also recommend doing muscle-strengthening activities at least two days a week if you can. Literally anything goes – jogging, cycling, Zumba, barre, circuit training in the back garden, washing the windows, cleaning out those kitchen cupboards. Whatever you manage to do, you will definitely enjoy the subsequent feel-good factor
Exercise to increase lung capacity
With COVID-19 likely to be around for a while yet, the concept of prehabilitation – ensuring that our bodies are functioning at optimum capacity – is more important than ever. As a report in the British Medical Journal states:
“We believe that pre-exposure conditioning may represent an important and effective individual intervention with a potential public health benefit. We encourage all to try to do a little more activity, every day, to improve their physical preparation in case they are infected with the Coronavirus and are unlucky enough to be more severely affected.”
With the lungs appearing to be a primary target for COVID-19, and some patients are likely to suffer severe breathing problems, performing exercises that increase lung capacity is a savvy move.
Whilst you can’t physically change your lung capacity – in terms of how much oxygen it can hold – you can follow some simple exercises to help prevent shortness of breath.
Pursed Lip Breathing
According to Medical News Today, one of these is known as ‘Pursed Lip Breathing’, which can help keep the airways open for longer to aid air flow. To do this, sit up straight, breathe in deeply through your nose, then purse your lips, as if making a ‘kissing’ face where your lips are almost, but not quite, touching. Breathe out through your pursed lips, making a goal of breathing out twice as long as breathing in. Some people may find it beneficial to set a timer, such as focusing on breathing in for five seconds and exhaling for 10 seconds.
‘Belly Breathing’ – as advocated by the American Lung Association – can also strengthen the diaphragm muscle, allowing a person to take a deep breath. To do this, rest your hand on your stomach, breathe in slowly through your nose to note how your stomach rises and falls, then breathe out through your mouth. Breathe in through your nose again, this time trying to get your stomach to go up more than it did with the previous breath. Try to exhale for a much longer time than when you inhale. Periodically, roll your shoulders forward and backward and move your from head side to side to ensure you are not building tension in your upper body.
Also try the ‘Rib Stretch’, which as the name suggests, helps to expand the ribs, meaning you can take in more air. To do this, stand and put your hands on your hips, slowly inhale air until your lungs fill to capacity. Then hold your breath for 20 seconds (or for however long is comfortable), before exhaling slowly. Relax and then repeat three more times.
Perhaps a surprising – and fun way – to enhance lung capacity, according to a growing body of research, is by singing. The British Lung Foundation runs Singing For Lung Health sessions, encouraging patients with respiratory disease to take part in singing groups, to help improve their condition. “Having a bit of a respite where you enjoy something and you’re present in the moment and you are not worrying about what’s coming next has a real positive impact,” explains a Singing for Lung Health leader. It works in three ways; teaching participants to breathe more slowly and deeply, improving their sense of control over their breathing (thereby reducing anxiety and panic) and improving posture, which in turn, aids breathing.
In terms of getting moving, doing something active for 30 minutes per day lightens the loads on your lungs, making oxygen transportation more efficient and boosting metabolism.
Interval training, which we have discussed elsewhere in this section, can be helpful for people who may suffer with breathlessness, as it allows the lungs a period of recovery before challenging them again. If you’re new to this type of training, start out by walking at a fast pace for one minute, then walking slowly for two minutes – and continue for as long as you feel comfortable.
As well as trying these simple exercises, to keep lungs functioning at their best, refrain from smoking, and drink plenty of water. This way you’ll be as prepared as you can be, should infection strike.
Disclaimer: If you have a chronic lung disease, it’s always a good idea to consult with your doctor before starting an exercise regimen