Social distancing, wearing face masks, restrictions in the number of people, working from home – all these necessary measures to curb the pandemic have made it challenging to stay physically active. But

Is exercise important during a pandemic?

“Exercise is especially important now (during a pandemic) because it can reduce stress, prevent and manage anxiety and depression, improve cognitive function thus allowing you to think, plan and concentrate better in school or at work during this challenging period,” explains Dr Fadzil Hamzah, Senior Staff Registrar from the Department of Sports and Exercise Medicine at Changi General Hospital (CGH), a member of the SingHealth group.

“It also prevents weight gain, boosts the immune system to fight infections, and improves sleep,” he adds.

If exercising outside is difficult, it is possible to have a safe and effective workout at home.

Frequency and duration for exercising at home

Guidelines for exercising at home is no different from when exercising outdoors

  • Aerobic activities: A total of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activities a week or 75 minutes of high-intensity physical activities a week

  • Strengthening / resistance activities: Major muscle groups of the upper and lower limbs; 3-4 sets of 10-12 repetitions; 2 days or more a week

  • Balance exercises: As often as possible especially for elderly for fall prevention

  • Flexibility / stretching exercises: As often as possible for everyone

  • Lifestyle activities: Break sedentary times as much as possible and aim to hit 10,000 steps/day

Here are some sample workouts to follow:

For those who rarely exercise

Goal: Start low, go slow

  • Begin by increasing lifestyle activities

  • Aim to break sedentary times as much as possible, e.g. get off the couch and move around during TV advertisements, walk around while chatting on the phone

  • Do more household chores

  • Monitor step counts and aim to hit 10,000 steps daily

For those who exercise regularly

Goal: Maintain the same intensity at home

“You do not need a gym or even exercise equipment to get fit. You can perform calisthenics, or exercises that use your own body weight as load or resistance. There are many free online resources that you can refer to learn some of these exercises,” explains Dr Fadzil.

Common household items such as a bucket or a detergent bottle filled with water, may mimic free weights for home-based strengthening exercises. Other examples include a chair for sit-stand exercises, or the staircase of your HDB apartment for stair climbing workouts.

  • (If you are still) Working from home allows more flexibility hence there is opportunity to increase frequency and consistency of exercises

  • Take breaks in between zoom meetings or desktop work to move more and do exercises

  • Exercising at home may not be as intense but can be made up by having longer duration or doing more types of exercises

  • Use household items as weights

  • Purchase home-based equipment, e.g. free weights, resistance bands

  • Learn new exercises from online sources, enrol into virtual gyms

“However, when using online sources, do note that not all online home workouts are safe for you. Always exercise judgement and choose the right workout that you enjoy to maintain an exercise program. Know your body and your limits; do not pick a workout that is too intense or beyond your skill level and abilities,” advises Dr Fadzil.

For children

Goal: Be fun and engaging

  • Incorporate body movements or dance with songs/nursery rhymes (Head and shoulders, knees and toes etc.) to get them moving

  • Create a fun environment with bright colours, objects and toys (Nintendo switch, Twister

  • Gamify exercises (hide and seek, dog and bone, police and thief)

  • Give incentives (verbal praises, star stickers)

  • Get family members to join in to play along

  • Do as often as possible; make this a routine so exercise becomes a habit

For seniors

Goal: Maintain functional fitness

“Exercises for seniors are aimed at maintaining functional fitness (physical fitness level to manage daily living activities safely and independently) and preventing falls rather than improving physical fitness and performance,” explains Dr Fadzil.

They need not be strenuous and should involve simple movements that mimic daily functional activities and most importantly, safe. Use household items, e.g. chairs, towel, broom stick etc.

Exercises the elderly can do are:

Aerobic exercises

  • (if unable to stand up or has poor balance) 10-15 mins of seated march on a chair or arm cranking / repeated arm raises

  • (if able to stand up) Stationary march with arm swinging. May also hold on to the back of a chair for support. Can be performed while watching TV.

Strength training

Sit to stand exercises from a chair, standing hip extension/knee raises while holding on to back of chair, Leg raises in bed

Balance training

Side leg raises and single leg stand while holding on to back of chair

Flexibility training

Triceps / Standing quadriceps stretches.

For the whole family

Goal: Exercises that the whole family can take part together

  • Doing house chores as a family

  • Home-based exercise videos and online virtual events, e.g. yoga, pilates, body combat, Zumba or aerobics etc.

  • Gamify exercises, e.g. Steps challenge in the family, tik tok plank challenge

Read the next page for safety tips for exercising at home.

Ref: L20

Check out other articles on fitness tips:

Which Burns More? Resistance Training or Aerobic Exercises?

How To Unlock Your Fat-Burning Zone

The 10-Minute Full Body Home Workout

Top Exercises for Lowering High Blood Pressure

Tips to Prevent Cramps When Jogging

Top Exercises for Seniors