The fact that we haven’t been able to live normally for almost a year now might be making this third lockdown feel all the more frustrating – and the cold, dark winter days can make us feel even more isolated. During difficult times it’s really important to take good care of our physical and mental health. Though when we’re feeling low, that’s often easier said than done. But we’re on the home stretch now, and this current (and hopefully final) lockdown is a great chance to really invest in our fitness while we have the time. That way, when restrictions are lifted, we’ll feel energised, strong, and ready for new adventures.
If you haven’t found your fitness flow over the past year, don’t worry. It’s never too late to try new things and start improving your health. So with that in mind, here are eight different ways to improve your fitness during lockdown and beyond.
1. Work on improving your flexibility
Flexibility is something we often don’t think about – until we suddenly realise we’re not as limber as we once were. As we get older, it’s normal to lose some of our suppleness, but there are several ways that we can actively improve flexibility, no matter our age. Taking time to give your flexibility a boost is extremely beneficial, as studies show that flexibility and balance are linked, and the more flexible we are, the more we can reduce the risk of falling as we get older.
So what are some of the specific ways we can improve our flexibility? Stretching can be very helpful, particularly when you combine static stretching and dynamic stretching. Static stretching involves holding a certain position without moving for between 15-30 seconds, whereas dynamic stretching involves movements like arm circles and spinal rotations. Yoga is a great way to introduce stretching into your day, as it includes both dynamic and static stretches. Have a watch of the video below to see some examples of these stretches.
While lockdown has meant our lives have become more sedentary by default, sitting for long periods of time can also hinder flexibility, so it’s important to keep moving as much as possible. Other ways we can maximise our flexibility include staying hydrated, eating plenty of anti-inflammatory foods like berries, mushrooms and peppers, and using a foam roller to stretch out our muscles. To find out more about the different ways that you can boost your flexibility, have a read of our article, 6 tips for improving and maintaining flexibility.
2. Explore ways to stay fit from home
Making yourself get out of the house to exercise can be challenging enough in normal winters – and in the midst of lockdown, when gyms are shut and exercise buddies are off-limits, it can be even more difficult. But the good news is that there are so many different ways you can stay fit from the comfort of your own home. The popularity of online exercise classes has rocketed over the past year, and just a quick browse on YouTube will show you how much variety there is out there. Whether you want to try yoga, dance, boxing or a HIIT session, there are countless free online classes you can try.
But remember that what works for one person won’t necessarily work for another, so don’t feel bad if you’ve tried a few online exercise classes and didn’t enjoy them. Try to be as open-minded as possible – you might just not have found the right class or exercise for you. If you’re pretty sure online exercise classes aren’t your thing, there are plenty of other ways you can stay fit from home.
Try getting creative with how you exercise. You can enjoy a daily dance session, where you play your favourite music and dance for as long as you possibly can. Dancing can burn 300-800 calories an hour depending on your weight and movements, so just 20 minutes of dance can make a big difference. Or perhaps you could try activities you enjoyed as a child, like skipping and hula hooping – both of which are enormously beneficial for boosting your fitness. Even doing household chores like vacuuming, mopping and gardening can count as exercise – plus, it’s a good way to kill two birds with one stone!
For more inspiration on ways you can improve your fitness without leaving the house, including how to create a routine and hold yourself accountable, check out our article, 5 steps to staying fit from home.
3. Try different styles of walking
Walking is free, simple, and accessible – and because it has powerful benefits for your mental health too, it’s one of the easiest and most enjoyable ways to improve your fitness. The beauty of walking is that it’s incredibly versatile. There are so many different types of walk you can go on, so if you haven’t found your preferred style yet, try experimenting with different walks and see which type works for you.
One idea is to try combining walking with a hobby. If you’re into photography, you might want to give photowalking a go, where you bring your camera with you and photograph anything that captures your interest. Into architecture? Why not try a city walk, where you walk to local attractions and gain a new perspective on your hometown? If you feel like your mind needs a break, or you feel stressed and worried, you may want to try out mindful walking, where you use your walk as an opportunity to get back to the present and alleviate stress and anxiety. For more information about these ideas, check out our article, 10 different types of walk to enjoy.
If you’re looking to try out more challenging walking styles, you could head out the countryside and enjoy a brisk country walk. Not only does trekking up a hill give your fitness a big boost, it also helps you to feel more connected to the natural world – and admiring gorgeous views is just another perk.
Alternatively, why not try power walking, which you can do in your local park or even on your own street? Because power walking focuses on speed and arm motion, it’s more of a challenge than normal walking, and can burn just as many calories as running. But even though it gets your blood pumping, it’s still a low-impact form of exercise, so it’s suitable for almost anyone. To learn more about how to get started, have a read of our article, An introduction to power walking.
4. Try building your strength and balance
Aside from working on improving flexibility, it’s also important to try to improve our body’s strength and balance as we get older. Because muscle weakness and poor balance are some of the highest risk factors for falling, boosting your strength and balance is extremely effective in reducing this risk. Plus, studies show that having higher levels of muscle mass can actually add years to your life and keep you healthier for longer.
The best way to improve your strength is by weight-training. The idea of lifting weights can be off putting to some people, but this type of weight-training has nothing to do with body-building. It isn’t about lifting the heaviest weights, it’s about lifting any weight at all, as long as it’s an effort. Exercises like squats and push-ups are great ways to start building your strength, and if you’re starting out, you can just use your body weight. Gyms are ideal for weight training due to the equipment, facilities and professional advice available, but until they reopen you can start improving your strength from home – just check out some of these strength training tutorial videos on YouTube.
There are lots of different ways you can improve your balance from home, too. Because it involves lots of lifting, bending and stretching, gardening can help improve your balance, and there are also plenty of simple balance exercises you can try out, like walking on your toes or your heels. Check out the NHS’s suggestions for balance exercises for more details, or watch the video below on balance exercises you can do from home.
Alternatively, you might want to give tai chi a go. Tai chi is thought to be one of the most effective ways to improve balance; it can boost bone strength, joint stability and cardiovascular health, and lowers the risk of falling by a whopping 45%. Plus, it’s really helpful for improving mental health too, and helping you feel more confident and connected to the world around you. Again, until gyms and fitness studios reopen, you can begin learning the basics of tai chi from home – just have a look at some of these YouTube videos.
To find out more about improving your strength and balance, you may want to read our in-depth article, The importance of building strength and balance in your 50s and 60s.
5. Give running a go
Running is one of the most accessible sports in the world, and its health benefits are extremely powerful: it strengthens our heart and lungs, improves joint and bone strength, decreases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, and can even improve memory. Running is just as good for our mental health as it is for our physical health, and aside from being a great way to relieve stress, it can make it easier for us to focus on the present moment and problem-solve.
In spite of this, running still seems to fill a lot of people with dread – but it’s really important to start off slowly and set yourself realistic and manageable goals. If you’re not used to running, it will take time to build up your fitness and pace, and beginning your running journey slowly is always the best idea. You could even start off by walking briskly and only moving into a run when you feel ready to.
A great running target for beginners is the NHS’s Couch to 5K programme, which is designed to help you run 5K at the end of nine weeks. This way, you’ll work towards your running goal gradually and keep your motivation and momentum going, rather than setting yourself steep goals which leave you feeling disappointed if you don’t reach them. To find out more about how to get into running, including which running shoes you should buy, how often you should run and how you can establish your running style, check out our article, A beginner’s guide to running.
6. Try yoga or pilates
While all exercise is good for the mind and general wellbeing, there are some that are especially beneficial when it comes to feeling more relaxed, like yoga and pilates. What’s really great about both these forms of exercise is that they’re extremely accessible. Almost everyone can do yoga and Pilates, no matter their fitness level, age or ability. Plus, both yoga and Pilates are very versatile, and can be easily modified to provide either a gentle or a vigorous workout.
Though it originated in India around 5,000 years ago, yoga is now practiced all around the world in many different forms. It’s excellent for improving strength and flexibility, but it’s equally known for its mental health benefits, and is effective at reducing stress and increasing happiness. Aside from boosting strength and flexibility, yoga can also improve your sleep, increase energy and focus, and help you become more self-aware and mindful. There are many different types of yoga, but generally hatha yoga, iyengar yoga, yin yoga and restorative yoga are recommended for beginners. If you’d like to find out more about these different types of yoga, and how you can start practising them from home, check out our article, An introduction to yoga.
Pilates focuses on core strength and is especially good for building flexibility and balance, promoting a strong, flat abdomen, and improving muscle tone and posture. Because breathing is an important part of Pilates, it can also help you relieve stress and anxiety. Pilates is about uniting the mind and body, which can return a powerful sense of wellbeing and happiness, and it can also be beneficial for people who are recovering from injuries, or people who suffer from posture-related back pain or strain injuries. If you’d like to find out more about Pilates, including how you can have a go from your own home, have a read of our article, An introduction to Pilates.
7. Set yourself a daily step count
We’ve already covered the different types of walks you can go on – but how can you increase the distance that you’re walking each day? Because in spite of walking’s many benefits, if you only ever walk very short distances, the fitness improvements you’ll notice will always be limited. One of the best ways to walk more is to set yourself a daily step count and try to always hit your goal – come rain or shine!
One of the most effective ways you can increase your step count is to start tracking your steps. Fitness trackers like Fitbit or other pedometers don’t only record your step count – they also record your heart rate and calories burned, and the insights gleaned from this data can be really motivational. Now we’re all spending so much time at home, it can be easy to lose sight of just how sedentary we’ve become, so being aware of exactly how many steps you’ve done can give your accountability a big boost and have you reaching for your trainers.
Most fitness trackers have a default goal of doing 10,000 steps a day, but it’s important to set yourself goals that are achievable. For example, if you currently only do 1,000 steps a day, you might want to start off with an aim of 5,000 steps and go from there. Plus, studies suggest that it’s better to focus on walking as briskly as you can, rather than simply counting steps and walking slowly, so don’t get too hung up on your precise step count; rather, just use it as a way to set yourself targets – and then look forward to feeling great when you hit them.
For more inspiration on different ways you can get your steps up, have a read of our article, 17 creative ways to increase your daily step count.
8. Get into cycling
If you’re not especially inspired by the idea of running or walking, then why not try cycling? Whether you used to be a keen cyclist but fell out of the habit or are totally new to it, cycling is a low-impact exercise that works all the major muscle groups. Plus, it’s great for strength and stamina, can alleviate feelings of anxiety and depression, improve joint mobility, and because it can be made as gentle or as intense as you like, it’s extremely accessible.
During lockdown, cycling can be especially enjoyable, as it can encourage us to get outside – and because we can usually cycle further than we can run or walk, it allows us to explore different areas. You can try cycling around local parks by yourself, enjoy cycling around town with a family member or friend (socially distanced, of course), or even head out to the countryside to make a day of it. There are so many different ways you can enjoy cycling, and getting some fresh air is a great way to give your mind a refresher and feel more positive.
If you’re new to cycling, there’s lots to think about, from deciding which type of bike to buy to figuring out which accessories you need, and familiarising yourself with the rules of the road. For advice and guidance on all of the above, you may want to check out our article, A beginner’s guide to cycling.
Exercising and staying active during a winter lockdown isn’t easy, but we hope that some of the ideas in this article will help to inspire you. Making sure we get regular exercise is one of the most beneficial ways we can look after our bodies and minds – and knowing we’ve pushed ourselves is extremely rewarding. Whether we choose to exercise outside or stay in our own homes, there are so many ways we can improve our fitness over the next few months.
Lockdown won’t last forever, and when restrictions lift and the days warm up, we’ll be glad we took the time to invest in our fitness. The trick is to go at your own pace and be kind to yourself. Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t hit your targets right away. The important thing is that you’re trying – and that’s all we can do right now.
Do you have any other ideas about how to improve your fitness in lockdown – or will you be trying any of our suggestions? We’d love to hear about your experiences. Join the conversation on the community forum, or leave a comment below.