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Exercising During the COVID-19 Pandemic

By Michael Wong (Founder/Executive Director, Physician-Patient Alliance for Health & Safety), Lynn Razzano, Lynn G. Razzano, RN, MSN, ONC, CMSRN (Clinical Nurse Consultant, PPAHS), and Thereza B. Ayad, RN, MSN, DNP, CNOR (Clinical Nurse Consultant, PPAHS)

One of the questions we’ve received on the chat line and which we’d like to share the answer to is about exercising during the current COVID-19 pandemic. This is a question that many have probably asked themselves.

There are many benefits to staying physically active, particularly following surgery. However, during the current COVID-19 circumstances that require social distancing and have necessitated the closure of facilities - particularly gyms, pools, and parks - staying physically active can be especially challenging.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a target heart rate based on a calculation of age:

For moderate-intensity physical activity, your target heart rate should be between 64% and 76%1,2 of your maximum heart rate. You can estimate your maximum heart rate based on your age. To estimate your maximum age-related heart rate, subtract your age from 220. For example, for a 50-year-old person, the estimated maximum age-related heart rate would be calculated as 220 – 50 years = 170 beats per minute (bpm). The 64% and 76% levels would be:

64% level: 170 x 0.64 = 109 bpm, and

76% level: 170 x 0.76 = 129 bpm

This shows that moderate-intensity physical activity for a 50-year-old person will require that the heart rate remains between 109 and 129 bpm during physical activity.

Walking is encouraged by rehabilitation programs, including those for cardiac patients and those who have had coronary artery bypass grafting. Keeping physically active has a great many benefits and, during the current COVID-19 situation, physical activity is recommended for emotional and mental health, as well as to boost your immune system.

However, one question that many people have and particularly those who have had cardiac issues is how intense should this physical activity be? In looking at intensity training which elevates the heart rate, what is not clear is how safe intensity training is for a particular individual. As everyone’s different, please speak with your doctor about finding the right level of fitness activity for you. 

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends “150-300 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity and 2 sessions per week of muscle strength training. Fit in 2, 5, 10 or 20 minutes, however and wherever you can.”

If you are walking outside of your home, please be sure to avoid crowds, wear a face mask, keep at least six feet between you and anyone you encounter while outside, and don’t touch crosswalk buttons, posts, pets that are not your own, etc. with your hands, bring a hand sanitizer - and when you return home, wash your hands.

Scripps Health in San Diego has some helpful tips for staying active during COVID-19. Such tips include:

  • Yoga, which can be done in the comfort of your home with little or no equipment. Check out these free yoga classes on YouTube - Adrienne and Kassandra

  • Bodyweight exercises, which don’t need weights and other such equipment - examples on YouTube, Nick Symmonds and Pamela Reif.

Hospital ICU staff have even taken to dancing to de-stress during COVID - perhaps that might work for you?

For informative questions and answers about staying active during the COVID pandemic, check out this article by Dr. Liz Joy.

If you have other questions, please submit these through the chat below or through the contact page.

Keep well and keep safe!


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