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Exercising in the Age of COVID-19: My New Normal

If you’ve been subscribed to this list for a while, you know how important exercise has been in my life during the last three decades as a cancer thriver.

There are countless ways movement positively impacts physical and mental health, and clearly influences cancer prevention, active treatment, and long-term survival. I’ve written about it here and you can see me in my gym here.

It’s essential for everyone to have a fitness routine as part of their life—that includes those hosting cancer or other underlying conditions. I highly recommend working with a professional who can customize a program best suited for each unique situation—this ensures the workouts are tailored to health benefits and take into account health challenges and physical limitations.

The Old Gym Normal

I’ve belonged to the same gym for 24 years; my wife, Linda, and I joined The Aspen Hill Club in the Washington, DC suburbs when Miles, the first of our two sons, was born. The club had an awesome and safe childminding program, affording us a couple hours of child-free time to swim, hit the weights, or participate in fitness classes.  When our sons were old enough, they went to the gym on their own on a near-daily basis.

Put simply, we love our gym; it’s our second home and, like our kitchen, it’s been an integral, daily ‘clinical intervention’ since the time I was diagnosed with leukemia.

The New Gym Normal

When COVID hit in mid-March, we stopped attending the gym—this was before clubs in Maryland were mandated to close. We didn’t feel comfortable going; there were too many unknowns about the contagion. At the time of this writing, there are still too many unknowns, especially regarding the potential of long-term or permanent organ damage.

We knew that stopping exercise would immediately impact our bodies, and be devastating to our psyche—exercise is a part of our life—so we got creative with a Plan B.

The new normal looks like this:

Linda and I take daily walks with Leo, our mini-schnauzer. I find it difficult to keep up with Linda’s incredibly quick stride—an astounding pace given she is five-feet tall. These vigorous walks take about 40 minutes to clock just shy of three miles.

But in the dog days of summer in the DC suburbs, on most days we need to start at about 6AM in order to beat the oppressive heat and humidity. Especially if Leo—a wimp when it comes to heat, unfazed by frigid temps—is to last the entire trek.

Figuring out weightlifting was more of a challenge—we had no weights. Turns out we were not the only household of active gym rats trying to solve how to get a weight-lifting fix at home; Amazon and other online retailers, including those with a brick and mortar presence, were either sold out, had months-long shipping delays, or were price-gouging.

Individuals selling through platforms like craigslist, as well as third-party sellers through Amazon, were asking sky-high prices for new or used equipment. As of two months ago it was typical to see weight plates that normally sell for $45 with asking prices of $250 or more.

Over an eight week period, we persevered and eventually cobbled together the core basics to affect a viable solution (from a weightlifting standpoint). In our collection, no more than a pair or two of weights match. It’s a potpourri of manufacturers, finishes, and colors. Some we purchased online new, others we got through craigslist and had to drive as far as 90 minutes in each direction just to score four, 5lb plates (curbside, physically-distanced, of course).

Yes, we did pay more than we would have pre-COVID-19—but we live in a capitalist society that runs on demand and supply. But we didn’t surrender to the most brazen price-gougers.

Though we would love to score an Olympic barbell and additional plates, and add various accoutrements such as a mirrored wall, we have a foundational, functional home gym set up that allows us to stay fit. Here’s the setup:

  • Adjustable bench
  • Pair, adjustable dumbbell bars
  • Various weight plates ranging from 2.5lbs to 25lbs, for a total of 185lbs
  • ¾” interlocking padded flooring covering 160 square feet of space
  • Dip bar
  • Exercise ball
  • Doorway pull-up bar
  • Reistance band
  • Ab roller
  • Foam roller
  • Ankle weights
  • Stretching and yoga mats

A Love/Hate Relationship with Our Home Gym

So far we have spent under $700 on our home gym. It represents a chunk of money that has proven to be, aside from food, our smartest investment since COVID-19 came onto the scene. We have everything we need to get excellent workouts and stay in shape. Regardless of the weather, we head down one floor and we’re at the gym. No drive time, no waits to access equipment, no physical distancing (I hate the term ‘social distancing’), no masks or wiping down machines. Less overall risk of contracting COVID-19.

[Handpicked Related Content: The Impact of Exercise on Cancer

But this new at-home workout scene has a downside. We were spoiled at The Aspen Hill Club. There, we didn’t have to struggle with adjustable dumbbells, having to add and remove weights for each exercise; we only needed to ‘grab and go’ from a complete selection on the rack.

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At the club we have friends we’ve known for almost a quarter century.  We miss the camaraderie. We miss our gym friends and the motivation we get around likeminded folks who strive to keep fit. We miss the staff and managers—they are like family, and we feel like family. There is also a ton of space to move around and state-of-the-art equipment at every turn. And I’m not going to lie: I think we work harder in a public environment.

Get Moving, Keep Moving

The Aspen Hill Club re-opened for business on July 1. We decided to suspend our membership until further notice, as we want to lay low and observe the infection spread in our county as  gyms, restaurants, and other businesses open with limited capacity.

Of course, we will return. My hope is that their long-time business will survive this double whammy of public health and economic crises; they are a first rate business with an investment in health promotion.

Meanwhile, may you and my fellow gym members do all you can to keep moving your body by using outdoor and indoor (your private sanctuaries) spaces to exercise.

Regardless of your budget, there are ways to create no-cost programs using bodyweight and outdoor space to get a solid fix of varied cardio and strengthening activities.

Need Further Motivation to Start Moving?

Here, I offer myriad reasons and approaches to motivate your mind to exercise your body. Or is it: motivate your body to exercise your mind? Clearly, it is a two way street.

First…

  1. Understand the impact of exercise on cancer.
  2. Understand the impact of exercise on prevention.
  3. Understand the impact of exercise on mood, energy, appearance, vitality, and longevity.

Then…

  1. Consider hiring a personal trainer (virtual, for the time being).
  2. Use a fitness app.
  3. Put on your workout clothes.
  4. Get outdoors to connect with nature.
  5. Sign a commitment contract.
  6. Write down how you feel after every workout.
  7. Remember why you started.
  8. Ask yourself: “Will I regret skipping this workout?”
  9. Try group fitness classes (virtual for the time being).
  10. Focus on the benefits of the post-exercise endorphin rush.
  11. Pretend there’s a crowd and it’s going wild.
  12. Surround yourself with motivational short-videos that contain compelling voices and messages.
  13.  Offer yourself micro-challenges.
  14. And give yourself longer-term challenges too.
  15. Participate in or create micro-challenges with others.
  16. Join in or spearhead some longer-term challenges with others.
  17. Do workouts with people who will cheer you on (virtual or physically distanced for now).
    Listen to audiobooks while you walk/run/workout.
  18. Listen to music while you walk/run/workout.
  19. Examine your day-t0-day, then come up with ways to grow daily routines into workouts—housework, yardwork, different outdoor routes that contain stairs and hills.
  20. Think about all the healthy and delicious anticancer food you will devour post-workout (my favorite go-to motivator :)
  21. Make whatever you do to exercise your favorite thing.
  22. Hang out with high-energy people (virtually or physically distanced).
  23. Trick yourself into going longer distances.
  24. Track your successes.
  25. Think about how much stronger you’re getting.
  26. Listen to the voice inside that says, “I can do this!”

Just choose a few of the above to get you going. No excuses. Get moving!