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Sport, Health & Wellbeing

Keeping fit in isolation: UC experts provide practical advice

As we stay at home to stop the spread of COVID-19, self-isolation can fragment our usual patterns of life – so we need to create new patterns to maintain physical and mental fitness, say health and fitness experts from the University of Canberra.

Here’s some practical advice from those experts, which will help build resilience in the face of change – and which can also be incorporated as life-long practices.

The mountain gym

As renowned physical activity advocate Professorial Fellow Dick Telford looks to the hills around Canberra filled with people exercising, it presents the semblance of utopia in his world.

With gyms and organised fitness activities shut down during the pandemic, Canberrans are literally heading to the hills to exercise, and take a break from the pressures of working from home.

Dick said that the number of exercises you can do while exercising on any of Canberra’s reserves is almost limitless.

“The outdoors is my gym,” he says. “The bush, the hills around Canberra … and I’m excited that so many people are now doing the same.

“Almost anyone can do this, walking or running on the flat ground or up the hills, or using your own body weight as resistance, by doing pullups using a forked tree branch, or press-ups with hands on a fallen log to make it a bit easier, or calf stretches against a eucalypt tree trunk.

“There are a lot of possibilities for outdoor exercise. I usually do about 10 different exercises for strength and flexibility, along with some jogging.”

This is something that Dick, a Professorial Fellow of Physical Literacy at the University of Canberra’s Research Institute for Sport and Exercise (UCRISE), has been advocating for years.

“There is a strong relationship between physical activity and the immune system,” he says, so staying active is an important part of maintaining resistance to disease, as well as for every aspect of overall health.

“Physical activity stimulates most aspects of the body, including the brain and learning,” Dick says, which is why he has long advocated for daily physical activity for school-aged students in particular.

And with many students currently studying from home, getting out and exercising should be integral to their daily regime.

The recommendation is for at least 45 to 60 minutes of physical activity a day. Dick’s advice is to make it enjoyable and incorporate it into part of a daily ritual.

He advocates breaking up the activity, and says that to get the best mental and physical benefits, it’s best to exercise well within our capacities.

“There is no need to punish ourselves – rewarding ourselves with enjoyable muscular activity makes much more sense.

“I like doing exercise two to three times a day, including a stroll or some activity to break up periods of research-related writing,” he says. “In Canberra, we are lucky to have hills, mountains and great nature spaces on our doorsteps. We have many running and walking trails, as well as the Arboretum, and should take full advantage of all these.”

The home gym

UCFitX is engaging with members of the gym and the wider campus community via a free mobile app, developed in collaboration with UC Sport.

The Uni Moves by UC app was developed by the UC Sport team last year, to engage students and staff members to become more active in their daily lives – and this is the perfect time to download and use it at home.

UCFitX has jumped onboard to post daily workouts.

Jovi Ong is the Fitness Co-Ordinator, Strength and Conditioning coach at UCFitX. “We offer monthly challenges such as a 30-day squat challenge,” he says. “In addition, we have daily workouts designed by the UCFitX team along with exercise programs available on the app, which are designed by our Exercise Physiology students.

“The app also includes scheduled stretch workouts or workouts that encourage mobility maintenance, and these take their physical activity to the outdoors.”

Jovi says that UCFitX is also utilising social media: “We provide guidance on weekly workouts that can be achieved within your own space, which are posted with short directional videos on our Facebook page.”

“We know that people are spending more time in front of their computer screens, because they are from home,” he says. “This can be bad for our bodies and our overall health in many ways – so it’s important that people complete a routine of at least 45 minutes physical activity daily.”

Maintaining a healthy mind

Maintaining mental wellbeing in these uncertain times is just as important as physical health, says UC Associate Professor in Sport and Exercise Psychology Richard Keegan.

Having worked with many sporting teams over the years, Richard is well-acquainted with the connection between mind and body. It’s particularly crucial to navigate stress when life feels out of control and overwhelming – as many people are finding it now – and physical activity can offer great relief.

“Physical activity releases endorphins,” he says. “If you are experiencing self-esteem issues, for instance, doing something physical provides a sense that you are doing something worthwhile and beneficial. It can bring about a sense of control and achievement, which is hard to get when you are passively sitting around.”

Richard also suggests that goals should be re-set during this time of change, and new lifestyle patterns introduced.

“This means having set, consistent times to do things – waking up and then doing some exercise, having a routine. This includes how much work you do at home, and there needs to be a separation between work and the rest of your life in general,” he says.

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