It’s no surprise that exercise is proven to have both mental and physical benefits. When many gyms shut their doors or restricted entry to curb the spread of COVID-19, the popularity of home workout routines boomed — even sales of mini trampolines soared as people looked to stay fit while safe at home.
A recent study revealed that decreased physical activity and increased screen time among adults during COVID-19 lockdowns and isolation was consistently associated with poorer mental health. But keeping up with health regimes and incorporating them into daily life is not always easy.
So whether you’ve fallen behind on your exercise goals for the past three months (or three years), here’s how to get back on the path to physical and mental well-being.
Show up for yourself
Most of us start out with the best of intentions and aim for lofty goals — like running a marathon — but the hard part is really just showing up and sticking to a routine.
Tokyo-based personal trainer and Tokyo Bootcamp owner Sam Law says juggling a work-life balance is the biggest stumbling block for his clients. He advises those who want to start working out to incorporate it into their everyday lives. “Make it a non-negotiable part of your life. Family and friends, work and training. Get it in your top three,” he says.
“All practices take some level of commitment,” says Setagaya Yoga Studio owner Lindsey Sawada. “Going to a regular weekly class helps to establish a routine and once you get used to some of the movements and practices, you can begin a home practice if that is what you desire.”
Find what’s right for you
The type of activity you opt for will have a large impact on your long-term dedication to being active. Remember: this is something you are doing for yourself, so find a form of exercise that doesn’t feel too much like a chore.
“Mix it up,” says Law. “Also, do stuff you enjoy, whether it’s spinning, tennis, surfing, dance or running. You don’t have to do something you hate (such as running on the treadmill or machine training). Find a balance of fitness activities that work for you.”
Sawada agrees. “Do what feels good to you! There is little point trying to enjoy something that doesn’t feel right in your body and mind,” she says. “Life is short, and I would love to see more people doing what they love instead of doing what they feel they should do. We are all different, and accepting that in ourselves will help us to accept the differences in others.”
Inspiration to get physically active and stick to a routine can come from numerous places and it can really help get you on the mat or click play on that workout video.
Law recommends finding a workout companion — real or digital.
“Train with a friend, find a gym close to your home or workplace, follow a program on YouTube or download a fitness app to follow along. (You could even) buy a training e-book from your favorite fitness coach or influencer and follow their program on your own schedule,” he says.
For Sawada, inspiration is found by simply turning up. “Just show up to class,” she says. “We can make all sorts of excuses not to do things in life, but if we really want something we must commit and take the time to do it.
“Once you have established a routine, it becomes a joy to practice, not a chore — well most days anyway. We all have those kinds of practices where some days it feels like we are moving through soup, not air.”
Even if you want to work out, what if the environment you live in doesn’t feel workout-friendly? Soaring summer temperatures across Japan have made even the shortest of walks sweat-inducing, so a full-on outdoor workout or run becomes even more of a challenge.
“Some days it’s just not wise to workout in the heat, and we have to take care not to overdo things,” cautions Sawada. “Staying hydrated and cool takes priority.”
Pushing our bodies to exercise in the heat is dangerous. High temperatures cause the body’s core temperature to rise, and as the body works to cool itself, heart rate increases, putting you at risk of becoming seriously ill.
Diana Tsuruda and Mitch Kondo of FlexHIIT Tokyo also advise drinking plenty of water to stave off heat exhaustion. “Some people choose to work out later in the evening or earlier in the morning when it cools down,” they say via email. “Listen to your body.”
“Stay hydrated throughout the whole day, not just for the training session itself. If you’re training intensely, take sufficient breaks and maybe even cut the duration of the training to account for the additional stress on the body caused by the heat,” says Law. “Don’t overdo it.”
On top of staying safe in the heat, you also should protect yourself from COVID-19 by following health guidelines and wearing a mask. Wearing a mask during day-to-day activities is already stifling, so exercise with this new wardrobe addition requires extra consideration.
One solution is to head inside. Gyms and training studios have, for the most part, opened their doors. But is it safe?
“People are wearing masks at gyms and studios, wiping down equipment and sanitizing hands as much as possible (and) temperature is also being taken at many places,” Tsuruda and Kondo explain. “(But) if it is really too hot to wear a mask at a gym or studio, stay committed to working out at home where you don’t have to wear a mask.
“There is a risk you take when stepping into any public place, but do your best to minimize the risk. If you really want to be safe, stay home and do your personal workout or join online sessions.”
Be kind to yourself
It may sound obvious, but being kind to yourself with exercise, rather than treating it like a punishment, makes a huge difference. The mind and body’s intrinsic relationship play an important part in how you approach an activity and how far you push yourself to the reasons you even began in the first place.
Even if you don’t meet your goal for that day, or skip a session, just pick yourself up and try again. Positive self-talk is important; acknowledging the way you speak to yourself and challenging negative thought processes will make working out a more rewarding experience.
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