When life spins out of control, ground yourself firmly in your daily routines. You may be so busy juggling demands of family and work that you have no time to think about yourself and maintaining your self-care regimen. On the other hand, if work and normal life come to a sudden halt like mine did, your days may blend into one long Blursday, an unbroken stream of time, lacking definition.
Whether overwhelmed or underwhelmed, adjust to the new demands by creating a routine of healthy physical and mental activity to replace the one left behind in the wake of the pandemic. For me, books offered great solace in terms of providing intellectual stimulation and expanding my horizons beyond the confines of my immediate surroundings. I read —a lot, starting every morning with my coffee, choosing a variety of books set in exotic locales with interesting twists of plots or experiences that were foreign to me.
Then, determined to come out of the pandemic in better shape than when it began, I started riding a bike, resumed Yoga practice, and set up a regimen of simple bodyweight exercises, which I dubbed my “bathroom calisthenics” because I could use the height of the toilet and the built-in vanity for squats, pushups and modified lunges. It evolved into this weekly routine: Zoom Yoga on Monday. Cycling for 45 minutes and running for 30 minutes three to four times a week on the same days I performed my calisthenics. Plenty of stretching throughout.
Now in the midst of the holiday season, there are even more distractions and pressures that threaten to derail your best intentions. Instead of letting your life become haphazard, think of adjusting your expectations and working through phases. Set up a schedule of priorities that you can do quickly and easily to maintain a modicum of fitness, and plan to resume your normal routine when things settle down. When I returned home after nine months of sheltering away, I found that the bodyweight exercises had developed a foundation of strength that prepared me for more intense weightlifting now that I had more equipment at hand.
The key here is that you need to schedule these activities into your day-to-day as appointments with yourself. If you need to modify the schedule, adjust accordingly, but try not to forfeit the workout. For resistance training, the bodyweight exercises can be replaced with weights, bands, or tubes. Once you learn proper form these four exercises will only take 10-15 minutes, depending on how many sets/reps you do. Pick your cardio activity: It could be walking or jogging, cycling, aerobics dance. Be sure to raise your heart rate and become a little breathless, as if you can talk with some difficulty, but not sing.
The Cardio Workout
If you are doing the same kind of steady pace cardio routine over and over, say walking for 30 minutes most days of the week, your body will stop improving because it has adapted to that level of exercise. It’s the law of diminishing returns: as your body adjusts to the exercise and adapts to the stimulus, it eventually stops changing.
To give it a boost, using any low-impact cardio exercise – walking, biking, the elliptical machine – break your 30-minute workout into five sequences, three minutes of moderate pace, followed by 3 minutes of higher intensity. Repeat this sequence five times, and then allow a few minutes for your cool-down.
The Resistance Exercises: 1-3 sets of each exercise X 10-15 repetitions
Minimum of two workouts per week; three is better!
- The Squat reinforces the hip joint, works the large muscles of the legs and is the most functional of all exercises. By working the muscles of the buttocks, thighs and lower legs, as well as using the abdominal and back muscles to stabilize the torso, the squat is the closest we can get to a full-body exercise. It is the same movement that we need to rise from a seated position or to lower ourselves down to the floor, so it is a very functional exercise that helps to keep us independent as we advance in years.
- The Back Extension is a primary exercise for good posture since it strengthens and lengthens the muscles that run the length of your spine, so you stand taller and straighter. It also improves mobility in the upper and middle back, reversing the forward slump that we typically develop from our everyday activities of housework, deskwork, childrearing, driving, etc. As you lift your chest and arch your upper back, you open the front of the shoulders to create an open, confident posture. The total effect is more youthful and slenderizing.
- The Push-Up firms the chest, shoulder and triceps in one move. While all three muscles are involved in the movement, the position of your hands determines which muscle you emphasize: wide for the chest, narrow for the shoulders. All variations help firm the triceps in the back of the upper arm and are weight-bearing through the arms and wrists. The core muscles of the abdominals and back are active in stabilizing the torso. The level of difficulty is determined by how much weight you shift onto your upper body.
- The Pelvic Tilt flattens the belly, strengthens the abdomen and stretches the low back. This simple movement combines a pattern of belly breaths with abdominal compression and a slight rotation of the hips. Breathe in, fill the belly with air, then exhale forcefully as your draw the belly button in towards the spine and press the curve out of the lower back. Strengthening this muscle provides a corset-like effect of flattening the belly, narrowing the waist and supporting the low back.
The Schedule: Cardio + Resistance
Monday 30 minutes cardio + resistance exercises
Tuesday 30 minutes cardio
Wednesday 30 minutes cardio + resistance
Thursday 30 minutes cardio
Friday 30 minutes cardio + resistance (optional 3rd resistance workout)
For expert guidance on strength training techniques, step by step photos depicting how to perform the exercises and a selection of well-rounded workouts please check out the book Strength Training Exercises for Women by Joan Pagano here. Joan also offers an online fitness and nutrition course, “Beat Belly Fat, Bloating, Bone Loss and the Blues” available on her website here .