This is a time to focus on trying to feel good, and for me that means exercise.

Jessica Ball, M.S., R.D.
April 19, 2020
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Welcome to Thrifty. A weekly column where assistant nutrition editor and registered dietitian, Jessica Ball, keeps it real on how to grocery shop on a budget, make healthy meals for one or two, and make earth-friendly choices without overhauling your entire life.

All of the time spent at home is stating to run together (what day is it again?). Most of us are over one month into stay-at-home orders and social distancing recommendations. While there's still a lot of uncertainty on when restrictions will start to loosen and what that will look like, it's important to try and find ways to feel good while we're at home. Exercise and movement, even if it doesn't look the same as it did before the COVID-19 pandemic, has been helping me feel somewhat normal right now.

Exercise has always been a big part of my life. In college, I was on my university's triathlon team and since graduating still kept training and competing for a few years. When I decided to take a break from racing, it was hard to find motivation without a goal to train for. So, I joined a swim group and rock climbing gym where things felt social and fun to stay motivated. However, when the stay-at-home order for Vermonters became official in March, that all changed. While I recognize that for many people the impacts of COVID-19 are far greater than missing their gym support and friends, it's still been one of the many adjustments I'm figuring out from home.

After the first weeks of staying home, I could feel myself getting anxious from being pent-up and from a lack of movement. I knew it was time to try and adapt. I focused on activities that I really enjoy, and took the pressure off of "working out".

This means I am doing a lot more walking. I look forward to morning walks where I can sip my coffee and call my family before starting my at-home work day. Especially on sunny days, this helps relax me, boosts my mood and increases my focus throughout the day. Try replacing the time you would spend commuting or walking between meetings with a walk around the block, or in a less trafficked area near your home. Be sure to follow the CDC recommendations for personal protective gear for when you are outside, like wearing face coverings when you're unable to stay 6 feet apart from others.

Another thing that has been making me feel good lately is doing more strength and weight training in my house. This is a type of movement that you can squeeze in your day in under 30 minutes. One of my roommates has been writing weekly house workout challenges for us, which has been a fun break. It's given us something to talk about aside from the news, and gives the whole house a serotonin boost.

Few things make me feel better than a run or bike ride on a sunny day. Now the main difference is I usually skip wearing a watch or tracking my mileage, so I can focus more on how I feel. If I have a lot of energy, I choose a longer route. If I am feeling more sluggish, I cut it short. Giving myself permission to enjoy these sports that have been such a big part of my life without the pressure of specific training target has helped me fall in love with them again. I also have a bike trainer that allows me to stationary bike in my basement if the weather isn't conducive for an outdoor ride. It's a convenient indoor cardio option for those who live in cities or cold weather climates. Many bike trainers are inexpensive (they cost a fraction of a Peloton bike) and can attach to the back wheel of a bike.

We're lucky to have a large unfinished basement that my roommates and I converted into a home gym. However, I realize not all residence have an option for a specific space for bike trainers, pull-up bars and free weights. Even if you live in a studio apartment, a few simple at-home gym supplies can help you get in a workout anywhere, regardless of your space. The gear I consider essential includes a yoga mat, dumbbells (bonus if they are adjustable or you can get a lighter and heavier set) and a resistance band. Even if you don't have weights, there are plenty of options for body weight exercises and yoga online. If you want to get really creative, things like chairs, books and stairs (or, hey, bottles of wine) can be used in a pinch.

This is what I've found helpful, but you should do what fits your life and your mood right now. It's OK if it's less (or more) than what you did pre-pandemic. For me, exercising boosts my mood almost immediately and improves my day. Take this time to give yourself permission to try something new, bring back something you love and miss, or simply accept slowing down without guilt.