MARIA GODOY, HOST:
This is NPR's LIFE KIT. I'm Maria Godoy. I'm a health and science reporter at NPR. And it's not an exaggeration to say exercise is basically what's been getting me through this past exhausting year. It's what's keeping me sane working from home full-time, reporting on COVID full-time while simultaneously overseeing Zoom school for two kids. So, yes, exercise is my mental health lifeline, but not everyone is moving as much.
SALINA DUGGAN: People on average are just moving less.
GODOY: That's Salina Duggan. She's a personal trainer in Seattle. Salina has been training clients virtually this past year.
DUGGAN: You think about all of the little things that you do - walking to and from your car, to and from your office, just small things that we're not doing as much of. So it's really important to make sure that you add those small moments into your day.
GODOY: We all know the physical benefits of exercising. It strengthens our heart, our lungs, our muscles, our immune system.
DUGGAN: But the mental side and the mental benefits are just extremely significant, and I think especially now. You know, we're seeing higher levels of fear, anxiety and stress due to COVID-19. And, you know, exercise is a powerful tool to help combat that stress and anxiety.
GODOY: So in this episode, tips to get you exercising at home, even in a pandemic, because it's important for your physical and mental health.
You know, it's interesting 'cause when I have friends who have, you know, pandemic-era depression, and they're like - I say, well, have you tried exercising? - like, I don't have the energy to, you know, do exercise, and I'm like, I wouldn't have energy without exercise. Like, that is probably the single thing that has pulled me through. You know, when I'm down in these times, I turn to exercise to just rev me back up and sort of shake off the blues.
DUGGAN: I agree. And I think sometimes we underestimate the power of simply just getting up, stretching, you know, light movement. And I think once we start moving, it's amazing how quickly the body reacts and says, wow, this feels really good. This is what we're supposed to be doing. The human body is meant to move, but our brain will tell us otherwise and try to convince us, you know, not to do it, what have you. But the first step, which is always the hardest, is just to move.
GODOY: Yeah, absolutely. When I get stressed out on a story or an assignment, I, like, do some jumping jacks to try and clear my head (laughter).
DUGGAN: Yes, exactly.
GODOY: But, you know, when it comes to exercising at home, one thing that can be really hard for people is just finding the time. I mean, are there mind tricks or ways you can set up your home or workspace to make it easier to fit in exercise?
DUGGAN: Yeah, absolutely. I think that really planning for success, planning ahead of time, you know, adding in that time in your workday and your workweek for your movement, making sure that you set that intention, you set that reminder in your calendar, on your phone to get up and move and stretch or whatever, you know, is going to feel good for you at the time. I also think, you know, in your workspace, adding something little like a yoga mat, setting up your station for that workout - preparing yourself in that way.
GODOY: And we're not talking necessarily about breaking out a half-hour to exercise, although you can if you have the time. But what about, you know, breaking it up into small segments? What about just doing jumping jacks at the end of every hour just to get yourself moving? Just assign yourself 50 jumping jacks, you know? Is there value to those five-minute routines?
DUGGAN: Absolutely. I think adding one minute of movement, one to five minutes - that adds up at the end of the day. And it gets you moving, and it does make you kind of break away and feel good. Adding that up every hour, every few hours, even - one minute - that's all it really takes - right? - to kind of get the blood flowing and to get you outside of the work frame of mind and feeling good.
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GODOY: Before we jump back into this episode, we want to say welcome to any new LIFE KIT listeners. We're glad you're here. You can expect each episode to have helpful takeaways to get you started on whatever life project you're looking to tackle. There are episodes on money, physical and mental health, parenting and much more. So take a look around. We're sure there's an episode that answers a question you've been asking yourself. OK, back to the episode.
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GODOY: What about creating a space for exercise? A lot of people are living in tight quarters or, you know, you have roommates or you have kids around all day. So what kind of tips do you offer clients, you know, to help them create spaces for exercise in their homes?
DUGGAN: Yeah. I have been in awe of seeing how creative people have got with their space. I have clients who will work out sometimes in their bathrooms, their kitchens...
DUGGAN: ...You know, bedrooms. Really, all you need is basically the length of a yoga mat - right? - your body. And that can fit in virtually any room. And it doesn't have to be a designated spot for workouts if you don't have access to that. So again, the creativity is big here.
And I think, too, if you prefer to kind of step away from your workspace, we have the great outdoors, right? I mean, you can go for walks or runs around your block. If you have steps, stairs in your home or in your building, or if, perhaps, if you have a deck or something like that, that's another great, you know, space to work in.
GODOY: I have two kids at home - right? - who are Zoom schooling, and I am working full-time. It is really hard to find time for even a shower some days. But one of my favorite tricks that I do to make sure that I get my exercise in is I dress for success. I put on my yoga pants, my, you know, sports bra, my tank top, and then I throw a sweater or some respectable-looking top over that so that I'm, you know, looking professional for my Zoom meetings in the morning. But if I have five minutes here or there, I, you know, rip off that top, and I'll do some situps or jumping jacks or I'll jump on the elliptical or something like that.
The reason I do that is one of the big barriers for exercise is, like, oh, I have to get changed, right? It's like five or 10 minutes that you're losing already. So I don't have that as an excuse. And I'm wondering, you know, do you have other tips or hacks along these lines?
DUGGAN: Yeah, I actually really love that. I think, you know, it's one of those things if you are failing to plan, you plan to fail. If you know you want to get a workout in that day, if you right away dress for your workout, remove that barrier, make it easier for yourself if you have that free second because a lot of the times, we don't know when that break is going to happen. And that's why it's so brilliant that, you know, you have that sort of built into your day. You're already prepared if and when the break comes.
GODOY: Yeah. I've been joking that, you know, they say dress for the job you want. I'm like, apparently, I want to be a fitness trainer.
GODOY: You know, I wonder about advice for parents because I have a lot of friends who are, you know, again, home, working full-time with little ones. And they're like, I don't have five minutes to myself. Like, I don't even have time, you know, to go to the bathroom by myself, much less, you know, exercise. What is some advice for parents to fitting in more exercise in their lives?
DUGGAN: I say invite your kids in on the fun, get them moving 'cause, I mean, it's going to benefit your children as well to see you doing something that's beneficial for you. There's so many, you know, virtual workouts that are family-friendly. How easy is it for us to just turn on the radio, find a great song to dance around with your kids and just get that activity, that movement in in a fun and engaging way? You know, taking family walks, I think, is a really powerful one we forget. It doesn't always have to be separate. And I think that's a really important thing to remember.
GODOY: Right. Could be family recess...
GODOY: ...Considering the kids aren't getting real recess anymore. Yeah.
GODOY: I could use recess.
GODOY: So now let's talk about exercise equipment at home, though, because so many months into this pandemic, if, you know, you're trying to buy dumbbells or other gym equipment, it's actually still really hard. It can take months and months to get it, if you're lucky. So what kind of things can you find in your own home that could substitute for exercise equipment?
DUGGAN: Yeah, yeah. The power of supply and demand, for sure. But, yeah, there's a lot of folks who are trying to get their hands on equipment. But the thing to remember is, what do I have available to me? Think about all of the household items that you can find easily. I can guarantee that most people have most of these items.
You know, you think about - even if we break it down, lighter weights, we've got something that's, you know, anywhere from 1 to 3 pounds - a wine bottle, a small water bottle or small food cans. Something that's a little bit heavier, maybe, you know, a 5-pound weight would equate to perhaps a bag of flour or, you know, laundry detergent. I love laundry detergent. A lot of the times, they have the handles, so easy grip - something to think about, for sure. And then, you know, heavier things - you can also think about how to get creative with backpacks. What could you fit inside a backpack to make it as heavy as you really want to for your workout? You can strap it on, hold it sort of out in front like you would a sandbag.
As far as resistance bands go, I really like to use towels. You're just pulling on the towel with both hands gripping it and creating as much resistance as you really want. Bungee cords are a really great alternative. And, you know, also, let's talk about families, OK? If you have young kiddos at home, holding them - that is weight. That's resistance right there, right?
GODOY: (Laughter) Oh, yeah. I do Lily squats with my daughter, you know, mostly because she likes to jump on my back when she sees me exercising.
GODOY: I really have no choice. But, you know, it's good extra weight.
DUGGAN: It's good for you, right?
GODOY: It's good for me, yeah.
DUGGAN: Yeah. But, I mean, ultimately, at the end of the day, too, we have to remember we've got our body weight. Really, all you need to have a successful workout is using your own body.
GODOY: What if you just find exercise kind of boring? What kinds of things should you look for?
DUGGAN: That's a great question. I - you know, I always bring it back to what I think is most important, which is you as an individual. We are all different. We are motivated by different things, driven in different ways. Some of us are intrinsically motivated. We know that if we're going to plan, schedule out a workout or if we pop in an on-demand video that we'll do it. But some of us need accountability buddies, right? So if you know that you need a friend to help hold you accountable, you know, that's where I would say think about hiring a virtual trainer to kind of hold you accountable. Think about finding a virtual workout buddy to hold yourself accountable.
We have to think about what motivates an individual, and it's different across the board. I have friends who have, like, pooled in money together, and the winner of whatever challenge they put forward for the month - you know, whoever takes the most steps or, you know, commits to the most workouts or something like that - gets the money at the end of the month.
I really do strongly, firmly believe in the power of community. So creating a little - a group of people where you're all going to commit to that goal - you know it's hard, but we know that when we kind of pull together, we are stronger, we are more successful because we know that at the end of the day, we're going to have to be reporting to someone, and we want to, you know, share our successes. I think that's one of the biggest takeaways I've come out with - the power of, you know, coming together as a community, as a collective.
GODOY: OK, speaking of community, if you're like me, one of the things you miss most about exercising in the before times is group classes. A lot of instructors who taught those classes in person have switched to livestream or on-demand virtual classes.
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UNIDENTIFIED FITNESS INSTRUCTOR: To the middle - go, yes. Go, yes. Yes, yes, yes, yes. Come on. Three, two, one - up, diagonal. And up, down. Up, down.
GODOY: That is Dance Church. It's a virtual exercise class that used to be an in-person class held in cities all over the country. And despite the name, Dance Church is completely secular, although some participants do describe the experience as feeling religious.
KATE WALLICH: You were in a room with 75 other people, sweating on top of each other, dancing, holding hands like - almost like club mentality, mosh pit vibes.
GODOY: That's Kate Wallich. She's a choreographer and dancer and the founder of Dance Church. The class is an hour-long free-form dance cardio workout with glute, arm and ab work mixed in. There are no fancy dance steps to nail. And although it's a great workout...
WALLICH: Dance Church isn't just about fitness. It's not just about exercise. It's about joy and transcendence and about feeling good and free and liberated in your body.
GODOY: Last March, as the country shut down, Kate and her team decided to take their classes online. They were nervous that the in-person energy that made Dance Church so special wouldn't translate. But...
WALLICH: Eight hundred people showed up for the very first class. And I just remember that feeling after teaching and going on to Instagram and going on to Facebook and just seeing all these videos of just, like, people doing exactly what we were doing in the studio, just, like, in their homes and, like, crying because they were so happy that we got to do that together.
GODOY: A typical class now has between 1,000 and 1,500 livestream participants. The classes are streamed live weekly, and the cost is donation-based.
WALLICH: Just looking up in the corner of the platform and seeing that there's a thousand other people doing class with you, that feels good, especially in a time when we're all isolated in our homes.
GODOY: You know, I'm curious. Like, do you hear from people who take your classes? Like, what are you noticing about how people are feeling about exercising from home?
WALLICH: You know, one of the things that I hear the most about Dance Church is Dance Church has saved me through the pandemic or, you know, Dance Church is my therapy. Dance Church has made me, you know, feel free in my body. Dance Church has, like, helped me accept my body. You know, people really use it to release, to have, like, a cathartic experience, to, you know, process and to sweat and to, like, get it out of their systems.
And I think that, you know, it's been really challenging for the world to, like, move everything onto the Internet. But I think that there are a few experiences that really transcend that feeling and still make people feel connected even when they're apart.
Working out at home by yourself - that's vulnerable. Like, that's almost more vulnerable than, like, making the decision to, like, get up and go to a spin class. I think that there's, like, a true acceptance in yourself to be like, OK, I'm committing myself to this experience right now. And I think that that's really powerful. And to know that people are actively making that choice of, like, I'm going to do this for myself right now, or if you need a little bump or a little help, like, I'm going to call my friend, and my friend is going to be my accountability partner, and, you know, we're going to take Dance Church together every Sunday. I think that we can still have fun and we can still sweat and we can still be together.
GODOY: I love that. I asked Kate to tell us her favorite song to dance to right now.
WALLICH: My favorite song to dance to forever is "We Found Love" by Rihanna and Calvin Harris.
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GODOY: All right, let's recap. Exercise, as you know, is important for so many different reasons. It's good for your body. It's good for your mind. It's even good as a way to break up your routine when things start feeling a little like "Groundhog Day." Tiny, little spurts of exercise have a huge impact. A minute here, five minutes there - they can add up. Also, remember to dress for success and make it easy for yourself. All you need for a home gym is a yoga mat-sized space and a couple of cans of beans. And feel free to involve your kids if you have them. Lastly, the key to sticking to an exercise routine is finding something you really, really enjoy. It might be running or kickboxing, or maybe it's dancing around your house. Whatever you're into, if you're having trouble getting motivated alone, look for an online class or enlist a friend.
For more NPR LIFE KIT, check out our other episodes. I hosted one about body positivity and another one on habit formation. You can find those at npr.org/lifekit. And if you love LIFE KIT and you want more, subscribe to our newsletter at npr.org/lifekitnewsletter. If you've got a good LIFE KIT hack, leave us a voicemail at 202-216-9823 or email us a voice memo at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This episode was produced by Sylvie Douglis. Meghan Keane is the managing producer. Beth Donovan is the senior editor. Our digital editors are Beck Harlan and Clare Lombardo. And our editorial assistant is Clare Marie Schneider. Special thanks to LA Johnson. I'm Maria Godoy. Thanks for listening.
(SOUNDBITE OF RIHANNA AND CALVIN HARRIS SONG, "WE FOUND LOVE")
GODOY: Hey. Are you upstairs? Can you tell the kids to stop thumping?
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Oh, Lily, please stop jumping around. OK, honey?
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