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Being active at home... safely

Five tips from a kinesiologist to get moving regularly without overdoing it
Young man in activewear sitting on the floor with his hands behind head and doing sit-ups

During isolation, many people have started doing physical activity. Some people have a more sedentary lifestyle, while others have increased the frequency of their exercise.

Even though gyms and fields are closed, there are many exercise options available: walking, following an aerobic dance video, biking and even gardening.

Every minute you spend standing or moving counts. Kinesiologist Valérie Guilbeault says: “It’s important to move regularly throughout your day. Make sure you’re doing something you enjoy and that you can keep doing in the long term. The more physical activity someone does in a day, the more health benefits they’ll have."

Here are a few tips from Valérie to get moving regularly, but safely.

Take short breaks throughout the day

Many of us lead sedentary lifestyles. That makes it important to get up for a few minutes every hour while you’re working or even during commercial breaks as you watch TV. You can try walking in place, stretching by pulling your heels towards your buttocks, or going to get a glass of water. You’ll find that your daily minutes of physical activity will add up easily.

Exercise in intervals

Exercising in intervals by varying the intensity and level of effort will save you time. For example, when you go for a walk, up your speed for one block, then slow down at the next intersection. Repeat for a few minutes. Five minutes of walking in intervals is equivalent to 10 minutes of walking at a steady pace. Note that high-intensity interval exercise should be done no more than three times a week to prevent injury.

Find the right intensity

It’s common to wonder how hard you should be doing an exercise. “Is this intense enough?” Valérie suggests using the speech test to gauge your shortness of breath.

If you can say:

  1. A monologue: Let’s move a little faster!
  2. Several sentences: You’re almost there, pick up the pace!
  3. One sentence: Perfect! Keep going.
  4. One word: Oops! Slow down a little.
  5. Can’t talk: Slow down, you’re pushing too hard.
Watch your exertion

It’s important to ask yourself questions while you’re being active. You should feel like you’re pushing yourself, but not that you’ve reached your limit (i.e., being very out of breath or unable to talk). When you’re exerting yourself, do you feel like it’s easy, a bit difficult or very difficult? If you feel like the exercise is very difficult, it’s extremely important to slow down and control your breathing before continuing.

Resuming physical activity after heart disease

If you have had heart surgery or a heart attack in the past few weeks, it’s important to listen to your body and resume physical activity gradually. You should only start light weight training:

  • 1 week after a stent is placed (if you haven’t had a heart attack);
  • 3 to 4 weeks after a heart attack (myocardial infarction);
  • 6 to 8 weeks after a bypass or valve replacement.

“The most important thing is to pay attention to how you feel while you’re exercising. Go slow and listen to your body, but don’t be afraid to get moving,” states Valérie.

Even during isolation, your healthcare team is there for you. Don’t hesitate to reach out to them to ask whether a physical activity or exercise is safe for you. If possible, they will help you through a phone call or video chat. If a face-to-face appointment is necessary, follow your doctor’s instructions to minimize your risk of exposure to the coronavirus disease.

Valérie Guilbeault is a kinesiologist at the Montreal Heart Institute’s Centre for Preventive Medicine and Physical Activity (Centre ÉPIC).

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