Losing the COVID “19” Safely: Tips on Fitness & Avoiding Injuries These Days. Plus What’s an Exercise Snack?

With winter around the corner and many schools and sports still on hold, it might be tougher to stay in shape. But that doesn’t mean it’s an excuse to hole up on the couch until spring returns — that’s a recipe for orthopedic issues.

We spoke to Dr. Virginia F. Casey with OrthoCarolina, who said switching to a sedentary lifestyle can lead to joint pain and stiffness, arthritis flare-ups and more. And it’s not just your joints that will suffer.

“We know that fitness is important for life in general. Especially in these COVID times, it’s an outlet for people emotionally,” Dr. Casey said. “It pumps more blood to your brain to be physically active, so it helps you do better at school and work. But we may have to be mindful of it during COVID because it’s so much easier to not be active.”

One caveat from Dr. Casey: if the cooler weather has you inspired to get fit and lose the “quarantine 15,” remember to slowly ramp up your fitness level rather than trying to pick up where you left off in March. The same applies to people stepping back into the gym for the first time in awhile.

“People will have a tendency to think they can start where they were when they left off and that’s a recipe for (injuries like) bicep and rotator cuff tears,” Dr. Casey says. “Even with running and the elliptical … if you go too hard with one activity and you haven’t done it for four or five months, your body will talk to you.”

Her advice? Drop the intensity when you first start. And that doesn’t just go for adults.

“It’s important to know that even children need to ramp up,” she says. “They can’t go from being a couch potato to playing two hours of soccer every other day.”

Physical Therapist Matthew Erbe says he’s seeing patients on both ends of the spectrum: those complaining with inflammation like tendonitis because they’re working out too hard, and those who are dealing with knee and back pain from decreased activity.

“We have noticed during Covid that more people are either not working or working from home, they have extra time on their hands and some people have ramped up their activities too quickly and are trying exercises they are not ready for,” he says. “If you have questions on how to increase exercise appropriately it would be valuable to talk with a sports medicine doctor or physical therapist to help guide you through the process.”  

The benefits definitely outweigh the risks when it comes to staying fit as a family.

Stay home and “Snack”

Dr. Casey’s favorite “snack” can’t be found in the pantry. She loves the concept of “exercise snacks,” short bursts of exercise you fit in during the day. Some fun examples include planking for 30 seconds next to your desk, doing five push-ups between conference calls, or take a short “jog” around your house (bonus points if you include obstacles like running up the stairs).

“There’s data that shows exercise snacks make a difference,” she says. “Even if you can’t go to the gym and get 30 minutes to an hour all at once, every couple of hours you could do a plank or squats, or even just walk around.”

Get the family involved by challenging everyone to a plank-off or push-up contest. You could even post stats on a leaderboard in your house.

Another fun way to turn your home into a fitness facility? Dr. Casey suggests grabbing a net and turning your driveway into a tennis or pickleball court. Never played? No problem. Learning a new sport as a family is a great way to stay fit and connected.

If team sports aren’t your thing, take a page from Matt’s book and do boot camp-style workouts in your driveway or garage as a family.

Head Outside and Hit the Trail

Whether you like to run, walk, bike or ride horseback, there are plenty of beautiful, easily accessible trails in the Charlotte area.

Take your (leashed) pup for a lakeside walk around the Colonel Francis Beatty Park Loop or jog one of the short loops before partaking in some disc golf at Reedy Creek Nature Preserve.

Ditch the Peloton for the real thing with a bike ride around the Rail Trail, where there are plenty of places to stop for an outdoor refreshment on your route. Looking for something more adrenaline-fueled? Head to the Sherman Branch Mountain Biking Park which features the appropriately named “Roller Coaster Loop.”

Looking for something the kids will love? Head south to the Anne Springs Close Greenway in Fort Mill to check out friendly animals, historic log cabins and even a super cool swinging bridge. If you catch a warm day, check out the kayak and paddle board rentals on Lake Haigler, or bring your fishing gear and drop a line.

Run a Virtual Road Race

You don’t have to hit the pavement with throngs of crowds to stay fit while supporting your cause of choice. Many popular local races are now “virtual,” meaning you run the designated distance wherever you want while carrying your preferred tracking device, and then you upload screenshotted proof of your distance and time to the race’s website. Virtual races are a great reason to run alone or with your chosen bubble of fellow fitness lovers. Check out our primer for how to run a virtual road race here.

Take a virtual class

Many of your favorite boutique workout facilities like Hilliard Studio Method and even big names like the YMCA stream their workouts online.

For kids, Matt likes simulating gym class with the PACER test that involves progressive running levels to music.

What are some of your favorite ways to stay fit as a family during COVID? Let us know in the comments.

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