Exercise Can Help Right Now—5 Ways to Start Moving

How to get moving when you can't make yourself exercise at home.

Posted Mar 19, 2020

123rf stock photo 26585035 Paul Hakiimata
Source: 123rf stock photo 26585035 Paul Hakiimata

Anna* lives alone and is feeling isolated and anxious as the coronavirus pandemic seems to be worsening. “It’s bad enough that I can’t be with my friends,” she said. “Virtual lunches and dinners together only get us so far.”

Fortunately for her, she is busy with her work and has several hobbies that she enjoys. “But I’m afraid to go outside for a long run, which is one of the ways that I let off steam and deal with my anxiety. What can I do?”

Arthur* lives with his girlfriend and their infant daughter. “I need to get some exercise,” he says. “But I don’t have the space or the motivation. But I really need it!”

And Sue* tells me that she never exercises. “I guess it would probably help,” she says. “But I’ve never been able to get myself to do it. Can’t imagine that I’m going to start now.”

It’s hard enough for some of us to motivate ourselves in the best of times. How can you get yourself to exercise when your gym is closed, you can’t get to work, and you're anxious, frightened, depressed, and worried?

Here are some tips that I have culled over the years—some of them are my own, some have come from clients, and some come from research—my own, which is based on stories people tell me, and others, which is often more formal.

Start small. Research has shown that physical exercise can make you feel less depressed and less anxious. But did you know that even a small amount of exercise—as little as 10 minutes a week—can make you feel happier? That’s what two researchers found when they reviewed 14 studies on the topic for an article published in the Journal of Happiness

So, do something, anything, for 10 minutes. Here are some ideas about what kinds of things you can do. And remember — you don't have to do anything to get ready. Wear whatever you're wearing. Don't comb your hair or even brush your teeth. Just move your body for 10 minutes. 

  1. Check online. There are all sorts of apps, programs, and online exercise classes. Look for something you already know you like, or for something new—maybe even something you’ve wanted to do but have been afraid of. Anna told me that she found an online beginner Zumba class that lasted 10 minutes. “I’m a total klutz,” she said, “so I’d never do that in a studio. But there’s no one to see me in my apartment. I was practically falling over my own feet and usually going in the totally wrong direction. But I was moving, and I was laughing so hard that I could hardly breathe by the time it was over. And I felt great! I’m already looking for the next class, although I really would do better just taking the same one over again a couple of times.”
  2. Check local studios and gyms to see if they’re doing classes online. Many yoga, Pilates, and other teachers are offering online classes. If you’ve found that you respond well to structure, this is a good way to get yourself going. And if you’ve always avoided going to a class, this is a way to check it out—with no one seeing how you’re actually looking!
  3. Get a friend to join you if you live alone, and a family member if you are sheltering at home with your family. Sue talked to a friend who also doesn’t exercise, and they made a pact to just lie on the floor and stretch for 10 minutes while they talked to each other on the phone (they turned off the pictures because neither one wanted the other to see her!). And Arthur and his girlfriend did a Pilates class online while the baby napped. “I’d never done Pilates before,” he said. “But it was a real workout! And it was fun to do it with my girlfriend. She’s amazing! I was jealous of how good she was!”
  4. Get your kids involved. They need exercise right now, too. Put them to work finding something they’d like to do online and remind them that it needs to be parent-friendly as well! They’ll get some good giggles out of trying to find something that works for “the old guys” in the family. And they’ll be much more likely to join in with you if you are good-natured about their teasing and don’t get either huffy or mean in reaction!
  5. Get enough sleep! Funny to put sleep with exercise, but they actually support one another. If you exercise, it’s easier to sleep well; and if you get enough sleep, it’s easier to exercise. And both are important for your emotional and physical health!

And finally, go easy on yourself. Remember that it’s hard to motivate yourself in the best of circumstances, and right now is definitely not the best of circumstances. Do what you can do. Ten minutes a week is enough. And maybe, just maybe, if you get that much in, you might be motivated to do more!

*Names and identifying information changed for privacy