Easy Tips for Starting Your Stay-at-Home Exercise Routine

While we’re all doing our part to protect our communities by staying at home, it’s important to take care of our personal health at the same time: eat a balanced diet, get plenty of sleep, and exercise regularly.

Whether you’re a regular runner or you’re someone who’s been meaning to get to the gym and hasn’t quite gotten there, regular movement is important for optimal health.

“If you have not exercised for a while, it may seem difficult to try something new on your own while practicing social distancing,” says Patricia Whitney, a licensed physical therapist and certified lymphedema therapist at Northwestern Health Sciences University’s Bloomington Clinic.

“During the COVID-19 stay at home time, we want to encourage you to start exercising, and if you already have a normal routine of exercise, we encourage you to continue it, if you are able.”

Start Where You Are Comfortable, Then Do More

stay at home exercise routine northwestern health sciences universityWhitney notes that if you have any existing health concerns, that you should contact your primary care provider before starting a new stay-at-home exercise routine. Make sure that you don’t have any major risk factors before you get moving.

“If you are cleared to begin but don’t know what will work for you, try starting small with a five minute casual paced walk to warm up your body,” says Whitney. “You can walk in your house or apartment but even better, go outside for a brief time in the fresh air and walk. Starting small will limit sore muscles and excess fatigue, since those can be discouraging.”

After this quick warm-up, Whitney recommends doing stretches to improve your flexibility. Whitney recommends that you keep them gentle and avoid bouncing movements, holding any position for 10-30 seconds.

“Be sure to breathe while you work on flexibility,” says Whitney.  “It’s OK to feel some muscle tension but stretches should never cause pain. If stretching isn’t your thing just try a second walk, dance to your favorite song, vacuum or dust one room, or use some of your home exercise equipment that you haven’t tried for some time.”

Track your exertion to stay safe

If walking even five minutes seems unattainable, Whitney offers helpful guidelines on tracking the intensity of your workout to ensure you don’t overdo it or negatively affect your blood pressure. A good method, according to Whitney, is to track your perceived exertion—not your heart rate.

“There are formulas that suggest how rapid your heart rate should be, but those can be another barrier to just getting started,” Whitney says.

Try managing your exercise progression by tracking your rate of perceived exertion (RPE) with the chart below, recommends Whitney.

“Beginners should start at the 0.5 to 1 level of perceived exertion” says Whitney. “Gradually increase your time doing your activity of choice until you reach a level of exertion that’s comfortable for you. A good goal is to get up to 3-4 RPE over time. You don’t need to reach the 5-10 RPE to improve your health and manage stress. Try to make movement a part of every day!”

Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) modified scale 0-10
(original scale 6-20; Borg, GA 1982)

0         Nothing, no exertion, sitting and resting
0.5      Very, very low; just noticeable
1         Very low
2         Low
3         Moderate
4         Somewhat high
5         High
6         High
7         Very high
8         Very high; hard
9         Very very high, almost impossible
10       Maximal exertion

Have more questions about exercise? The NWHSU Bloomington Clinic is offering telemedicine while Minnesota stays at home to stop the spread of COVID-19.