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Okay, everyone, it’s time for me to come clean. In 2020, I spent way too much time on the old internet machine viewing others utilize their pandemic downtime to do awesome stuff like bake yummy artisan bread, knit clothing, create rad looking pottery, and get in peak shape. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues into 2021, it has become clear to me that to get through the next several months with my sanity intact, I need to watch less and do more. It’s imperative that I figure out how to stay active and productive whilst, above all else, remaining safe and healthy.

Before we begin, I believe it’s important to acknowledge that, especially in times like these, we have a responsibility to one another. This pandemic is very real. There’s an overwhelming body of evidence to support that conclusion. As I write this, over 24 million cases of COVID-19 have been reported in the United States alone. Worldwide, the count sits at roughly 96 million. Sadly, millions did not survive their bout with the virus; countless others are left to deal with its residual effects. Maybe you’ve had someone close to you get ill. Perhaps it was a distant acquaintance. I hope they are okay. I hope you are okay. God forbid you’ve experienced a passing during this time. If so, I am sorry for your loss. At the same time, for those of us blessed enough to still be here, it’s our obligation to not only survive but thrive and it’s our duty to do that in a responsible way.

Safety First.

So here we are twenty twenty-one. If you’re like me, you want to stay as active as possible. At the same time, you‘re trying to socially distance. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), it’s vital for us to stay physically active whilst social distancing. Physical activity can include anything from completing household chores (e.g., vacuum, clean out the closet, mow the lawn, etc.) to biking, hiking, or walking the dog. Just remember, safety is absolutely paramount.

At this point, scientists have gathered enough information on COVID-19 to be reasonably confident that the virus that causes it spreads primarily via the exchange of respiratory droplets between individuals in close contact. Indirect exposure (via aerosols that linger in the air or contact with inanimate objects) is also possible. That being the case, you probably want to avoid doing stuff in spaces that are poorly ventilated and/or crowded. Following that logic, outdoor activities generally present less risk than indoor activities. When outdoors, adhere to social distancing guidelines and wear a mask, particularly if you cannot maintain an adequate distance from others. During indoor activities, masks should be worn at all times. Social distancing should be facilitated. Also, proper ventilation is a must. This can be accomplished by doing something as simple as opening a window or two. If using an HVAC system, recirculation modes should be avoided and the system should be regularly inspected, maintained, and cleaned. All high touch surfaces should be disinfected regularly.

Of course, whether indoors or outdoors, proper hygiene is vital. Wash hands often. Use sanitizer. Avoid touching your face. A portal to more detailed information on things like social distancing parameters, how to wear a mask, good hygiene practice, and making your overall environment safer can be found here.

On a related note, getting inoculated as soon as possible is a smart move too. There are currently two vaccines that have been granted emergency authorization approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA; Pfizer /BioNTech and Moderna) and all 50 states are mobilizing their resources to phase in vaccinations for their citizens. Each state has unique parameters for vaccine distribution so stay in the loop to get in when it’s your turn.  

Why? What? How?

There are some clear physical and psychological benefits to staying active. At this point in time, an abundance of evidence suggests that low physical activity levels contribute to reduced life expectancy (Bentlage et al., 2020). Personally, having just started a family, I’ve become keenly aware of that little tidbit. However, due to constraints resulting from pandemic-related restrictions, even achieving the minimum recommended levels of physical activity has become, well… challenging. I know it’s important to keep my body and mind engaged. I want to do things that include my family. I need to stay productive. I even find myself longing to be around fellow humans. Darn you COVIIIIIIDDDDD!!!!

Thankfully, the fine folks over at the Mayo Clinic and the CDC have put together a helpful list of low to high-risk activities. Check it out here and here. Lower risk outdoor options include (weather permitting) picnics, walking, hiking, biking, outdoor fitness classes, and for those cold weather enthusiasts, skiing, snowboarding, and ice skating made the list. Adapting physical activities to indoor settings when the great outdoors is uncooperative (like here in Massachusetts where it snowed just this morning) is a real viable option, too. In fact, supervised home-based programs are recommended during the pandemic, especially for the many individuals who are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19’s effects (Bentlage et al., 2020).  

A little bit of imagination goes a long way. Several of my acquaintances participate in fitness programs that have shifted to an outdoor setting (parking lot, side lot, park, etc.) in order to accommodate the infection control precautions mentioned earlier. If you are looking for more of that pandemic-friendly group vibe, there are quite a few online exercise class options. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t necessarily need a fancy mirror or hi-tech stationary bike. For example, the American Heart Association offers a variety of free virtual workouts some of which teach participants how to do a budget workout using items around the house (e.g., sofa stretch, chair dips, etc.). The neat thing about virtual exercise programs is that you can get your sweat on at your leisure in the safety of your own home.

During the pandemic, many people have also used apps and other virtual platforms to learn a new language, play a musical instrument, paint, bake, cook, etc. Knitting and crochet are popular again. Bonsai trees and succulent gardens are hot. Apparently, books and boardgames have also made a comeback! One of my wife’s friends started a band. A good buddy of mine has been tackling DIY projects around the house. Another has started gardening. Yet another has gotten into raising chickens, which provide fresh, organic eggs for their family.

When you stop and think about it, there really are a ton of options for pandemic-friendly productive activities that don’t involve watching TV, scrolling through social media, or playing video games (not that there’s anything wrong with those leisure activities; they just don’t fall into the productive category, IMHO).

Make it Happen.

Remember coloring books? Whether you like it or not, the outline is there. Those lines are your parameters. In this case, the exercise explicitly calls for you to stay within the lines. Within those lines, the possibilities are almost endless.

Ultimately, it’s about what works for you and what you’re comfortable with. Personally, I’ve been trying yoga lately since I can do it from the confines of my own home. It also seems to have some positive effects upon my mental acuity and physical well-being. Puyat and colleagues (2020) concluded that exercise, in general, can help distract us from stressful situations and that, more specifically, the practice of yoga integrates many of the body’s systems leading to a perceived increase in positive well-being. So yeah, I believe I shall carry on with the yoga.

Given my current circumstances, I think I can allocate some extra time to learn more about the intricacies of electronic music production and creating electronic music. I might also start to familiarize myself with computer coding. I feel like taking a virtual cooking and/or baking class with my wife would be cool. Organizing Zoom game nights with our friends or family seems like a fun idea too. Haven’t tried that one yet. The standard, low-tech walk around the neighborhood is also pleasant since that’s a family affair. We’ll keep that up. Also, I’m going to try to prioritize hiking whenever the weather allows. I like the little extra boost being out in nature provides and the vitamin D isn’t too shabby neither!     

Like my gram-pappy used to say, “We don’t do nothin’ for no reason.” So do things that you enjoy. Incentivize yourself. Stay organized. Set SMART goals. Make a to-do list. Keep it simple and straightforward. Avoid overwhelming yourself with too much. Start small if you have to. Set yourself up for success and reap the rewards of your successes. Have a schedule. Stick to it. Use prompts. Tap your resources. Ask for help. It’s fine to make adjustments as you go. Maybe, after you give it a proper try, it turns out CrossFit is not your thing or that you’re just not cut out for skiing. No worries. This isn’t a perfect science. Few of us have been here before, but if you’re reading this, then you’re here now. That’s what matters. Make the most of it. And try to take some comfort in the fact that upon the horizon cometh the dawn.  

References

Bentlage, E., Ammar, A., How, D., Ahmed, M., Trabelsi, K., Chtourou, H., and Brach, M. (2020). Practical recommendations for maintaining active lifestyle during COVID-19 pandemic: a systematic literature review. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17, 1-22. DOI: 10.3390/ijerph17176265

Gravina, N., Nastasi, J. A., Sleiman, A. A., Matey, N., and Simmons, D. E. (2020). Behavioral strategies for reducing disease transmission in the workplace. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 53, 1935-1954. DOI: 10.1002/jaba.779.

Puyat, J. H., Ahmad, H., Avina-Galindo, A. M., Kazanjian, A., Gupta, A., Ellis, E., Ashe, M. C…, De Bono, C. E. (2020). A rapid review of home-based activities that can promote mental wellness during the COVID-19 pandemic. PLOS One, 1-21. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0243125.

How to be physically active while social distancing. (2020). CDC. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/how-to-be-physically-active-while-social-distancing.html.

Participate in indoor and outdoor activities. (2021). CDC. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/participate-in-activities.html.

Getting ready for your COVID-19 vaccine. (2021). CDC. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/index.html.

 Coronavirus (COVID-19) Statistics. Google News. Retrieved from: https://news.google.com/covid19/map?hl=en-US&mid=%2Fm%2F09c7w0&gl=US&ceid=US%3Aen.

Safe outdoor activities during the COVID-19 pandemic. 2020. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/coronavirus/in-depth/safe-activities-during-covid19/art-20489385.

Tarlton, A. (2020, July). Study: the 15 most popular hobbies to start during the coronavirus pandemic. Reviewed. Retrieved from: https://www.reviewed.com/lifestyle/features/study-15-most-popular-hobbies-to-start-during-coronavirus-pandemic.

Coronavirus disease advice for the public. (2021). WHO. Retrieved from: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public.

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