A Home Exercise Plan That Really Works

Even regular exercisers can see their workout routines veer off-course when unexpected changes occur. That’s what happened this past spring when millions of Americans were under stay-at-home orders due to the corona­virus pandemic.

Fitness centers closed, and walking outdoors was more difficult because of concerns about being around too many people.

But it’s still important to stay active. “The older you are, the more quickly you lose physical fitness,” says LaVona Traywick, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the department of occupational therapy at the University of Central Arkansas. “Deconditioning can start in as little as one week.”

In addition to the many proven health benefits of working out, exercise can help your immune system work better, too.

Though it might take time to get used to working out in your living room, shifting to an at-home exercise routine isn’t difficult. Online classes and connected exercise equipment, such as stationary bikes and treadmills, were already growing in popularity.

After everyone was forced to stay home, even more options started springing up. Individual instructors from gyms, community centers, and yoga studios began offering live workouts on social media and via web conferencing tools, such as Zoom. To find the best option for you, follow these tips.

Set Some Goals

Experts say you should aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week (half that amount if it’s vigorous intensity), two or three resistance-training and stretching sessions weekly that target the entire body (arms, shoulders, chest, back, abs, glutes, and legs), and regular balance-enhancing activities. (Any exercise is better than none, though.)

You can find workouts for all of these online, and brisk walking counts as aerobic exercise.

Pick Something You Enjoy

Though being tethered to your house may be the perfect impetus to finally invest in a piece of exercise equipment, make sure it’s something you’ll actually use.

“I hear so many people say, ‘I have to go do such and such,’ and they’re dreading it,” says Traywick. “If you hate biking, don’t buy a stationary bike.”

If equipment isn’t your thing, you can easily find something to fit your taste, given the variety of on-demand workouts.

Prerecorded classes give you flexibility, but if you go to a fitness center mainly for the social engagement it provides, try a “live” workout, which may allow you to see your fellow classmates and even get feedback from the instructor.

Check the Credentials

“Credible sites should tell you what the instructor’s credentials are,” says Traywick. Classes targeted to an older population should ideally be developed by people with expertise in senior fitness.

This is the case for programs like Go4Life (search Go4Life on YouTube for videos), from the National Institute on Aging, and SilverSneakers, which is a free benefit of many Medicare Advantage and supplemental health plans.

“Our classes ensure that the exercises are accessible to people with varying levels of fitness abilities,” says Elizabeth Rula, Ph.D., executive director of research at Tivity Health, which runs SilverSneakers.

There are more than 200 on-demand videos via the website and the SilverSneakers GO app, and the group’s Facebook page runs live workouts twice a week. The program’s research shows that those who participate regularly report fewer days of poor physical and mental health, Rula says.

Consider the Features

Look at the amount of equipment required (such as dumbbells or resistance bands) and the cost. Streaming workout programs can run between $10 and $20 a month.

Each workout should also have a distinct warmup and cooldown. “The warmup raises your heart rate slowly and makes muscles more pliable,” Traywick says. “At the end, you want to stretch out muscles to prevent soreness later and bring the heart rate down slowly—so you don’t have blood pooling in your extremities, which can lead to dizziness and fainting.”

Editor’s Note: This article also appeared in the July 2020 issue of Consumer Reports On Health. 

Consumer Reports has no financial relationship with advertisers on this site.

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Consumer Reports is an independent, nonprofit organization that works side by side with consumers to create a fairer, safer, and healthier world. CR does not endorse products or services, and does not accept advertising. Copyright © 2020, Consumer Reports, Inc.

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