Maintaining regular activity when you’re stuck at home can be difficult. Whether you’re working from home full-time, caring for unwell family members, homeschooling, self-isolating or in a lockdown, smaller spaces at home paired with minimal or no gym equipment and a loss of motivation can quickly pile up, leading to a sudden reduction in how physically active you are.
When your daily movement decreases, your body suffers – both in the short and long term.(1) Physically, inactivity can cause a reduction in bone density(2) and muscle strength,(3) loss of flexibility leading to increased risk of injury(4,5) – and this is often just the beginning. Thankfully, the deleterious effects of short-term inactivity can be combated by resuming home-based exercise, and it’s proven to have significant health benefits.(6) With physical activity helping to maintain optimum physical and mental health,(7) here are five of our top tips for exercising at home that anyone can do, with no equipment needed.
1. Use Your Own Bodyweight
You don’t need a gym or expensive exercise equipment to reap the health benefits of exercise. Using your own bodyweight to do exercises such as push ups, sit ups and lunges is shown to have immense physical health benefits, including increased strength, endurance, flexibility, aerobic capacity and improved body composition.(8)
Bodyweight training is unique to each individual’s limb length, muscle and tendon insertion, weight and fitness level. This means that you can use bodyweight training regardless of where you are on your fitness journey, adjusting your intensity level to work with you.
Most bodyweight exercises are closed-chain exercises, which use multiple joints as the resistance is moved away from or toward an anchored body part. Closed-chain activities often are more functional movements than open chain movements, which are practiced in many popular free weights and machine exercises such as a biceps curl. When you perform closed-chain exercises, you often strengthen several muscle groups at once.(9)
How to do it
Aim for three exercise sessions per week that use your body weight. One session looks like 8-15 repetitions of 4-6 different body weight exercises, followed by two minutes of rest. Repeat this 2-4 times.(10)
As you’re doing the movements, focus on your technique, listen to your body, and move in a slow and controlled manner. If something causes pain, stop, swap it for a different movement, and get help with your technique.
2. Use Good Breathing Techniques As A Foundation For Your Exercise
Most people don’t focus on their breathing during exercise, often automatically taking in quick breaths through their mouth to get more oxygen as quickly as possible. Interestingly, this can actually inhibit your body’s ability to release oxygen into your cells, making you tire more quickly.(11) Reframe your mindset to consider oxygen like a fuel for your muscles, which must be pumped to your heart, brain and other muscles throughout your body to be able to sustain the activity you do – and one of your goals is to get that fuel for your body so you can exercise for longer, reduce the risk of injury, and maximise the benefits of the exercise you’re doing.(11)
How to do it
Your nose is your body’s preferred way to get oxygen in, it’s perfectly designed to help purify and regulate the temperature of the air you’re inhaling.(11) Next, you want to practice diaphragmatic breathing, as opposed to shallow breathing. Diaphragmatic is the deeper breathing that fills up your abdominal area, not just your chest, and helps ensure core activation. You’ll notice your stomach rise out when you breath in and then collapse as you breathe out.
When you’ve mastered that, you can adjust your breathing to best match the type of exercise that you’re doing:
- Strength training – breathe out on the concentric part of the lift, such as when lifting the weight toward your shoulder on a bicep curl, and breathe in as you lower the weight back down. When you exhale and squeeze the air out you increase your core engagement, which gives you more power and stability
- Mobility-focused exercises like Pilates – take longer inhales and exhales. This will help you better release tension so you can access your full range of motion. Try inhales and exhales of four to five seconds, or longer.
- Cardio – breathe at a steady, consistent pace throughout your workout. Deeper measured breaths will optimise your blood flow which can help reduce fatigue. Just don’t keep your breathing too slow or relaxed – this may limit your ability to perform aerobic work. Breathe in for two or three seconds, then breathe out for two to three seconds.
3. Group Physical Activity
If you live with others, try some group exercises together. Exercising with friends or family members has been found to increase motivation, strengthen social bonds and promote participation.(12,13,14) It can also improve your performance on aerobic exercise tasks across multiple sessions.(15) One 12-week study found that those who completed group workouts scored significantly higher in terms of stress reduction and physical, mental and emotional quality of life.(16)
How to do it
Discuss with your family what activities they’re all like to do together. You only need one exercise partner to reap the benefits – though exercise levels rose even more when that partner was emotionally supportive.(17) Consider the age and ability of each person. You might like to include an element of competition, or collaboration to reach a goal. Some ideas for group exercise are:
Exergames involve the use of active video games with action and motion sensors.(18) They include simulations of swimming, rowing, cycling, running, and walking, using visual and auditory stimuli with equipment that includes remote controls with accelerometers, cameras, and heart rate monitors.(19) Exergames increase both motivation and self-efficacy, thus encouraging physical activity.(20) They can be played with a partner and may provide opportunities for interaction and communication. Consequently, this may improve psychosocial wellbeing.(21)
Music and dance have been shown to reduce stress,(22) promote cardio-vasuclar health,(23) and maintain fitness as dancing can reach moderate and vigorous intensity levels, and even imitate high-intensity interval training.(24) Dancing has also been found to support your mental health, helping cope with the coronavirus-imposed solitude of isolation for those in this situation.(25) All you need is a soundtrack you all enjoy.
4. Maximise Incidental Activity
Working from home and staying at home for other reasons significantly limits the amount of incidental activity you naturally engage in.(26) Incidental activity is any small activity that builds up over the course of a day, for example walking to the bus stop, or standing up to go find a colleague in the office. When you’re spending your days at home, much of this incidental activity is lost, and we need to consciously look for ways to incorporate it again.
Incidental activity has a cumulative health benefit(27) that helps you maintain a base fitness level. As little as three 20-second fast stair climbs a day can improve fitness in only six weeks.(28)
How to do it
- Take the stairs instead of the lift
- Walk to the shops instead of using transport
- Stand while using the computer instead of sitting
You don’t need to leave your house to engage in incidental activity – internal stairs also offer more stair climbing and strength exercise opportunities, or set timers to stand up and walk around the house during your work day.
5. Add Mindfulness To Your Exercise Routine
Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.(29) Applying this principle to exercise, it means paying attention to our physical sensations, as well as how our emotions and thought processes are responding.
Being present and mindful during exercise has been shown to reduce stress, anxiety and depression(30,31) and improve sleep.(30) Mindfulness has also been linked to improvements in physical health such as improved cardiovascular health,(32) lower body mass indexes and blood sugar levels. Mindful fitness can improve breathing, heart rate, and parasympathetic activity.(33)
It’s not always easy to stay committed to exercise, particularly when spending large amounts of time at home, so mindfulness can strengthen your resolve to stick to your workout routine,(34) and increases your feelings of satisfaction.(33)
How to do it
Practising mindfulness while you exercise takes some practice. It involves staying in the present without judgement, so you’re able to concentrate on what is happening in the present, rather than focusing on the past or future. Take the time to be aware of your posture, gait, where your focus and eyes are moving to, and your overall form. Bring your mind back to the exact moment you’re in.
If you find yourself distracted and thinking of all the things you should be doing instead of exercising, or the things waiting for you when you’ve finished, remember why it’s important to do your workout and how it will help you right now. Tell yourself how good you’ll feel when you finish the workout and why you’ve decided to make exercise a priority in your life at this point in time, and how it’s helping you move towards your current goals.
Remember, mindfulness takes practice. Our brains are thinking machines, so trying to switch them off can be difficult. If you catch yourself thinking about the past or the future during your exercise, gently redirect your thoughts to the present. Most of all, be patient with yourself.
Making The Most Of Your Home Workout: Summary
Movement at home can appear harder or less motivating than going to the gym or getting outdoors – but there are plenty of ways that you can help make it work so you can reap the benefits of exercise – and you don’t even need to have equipment available to get started. You can:
- Use your own bodyweight, aiming for three sessions per week
- Focus on good breathing techniques, practising diaphragmatic breathing as opposed to shallow breathing
- Try group physical activities to help increase your motivation, strengthen social bonds, and promote participation. Exergames and dancing are two interesting, engaging options with proven benefits
- Maximise the incidental activity throughout your day by taking the stairs, standing while working on the computer, or walking to the shops instead of using transport
- Focus on controlling your thinking to add mindfulness to your exercise routine to help reduce stress, anxiety and depression
- If any pain or injury is preventing you from working out from home, contact your physiotherapist