How to exercise during the pandemic

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Do you know how to exercise during the pandemic? If you’re having a hard time writing, consider lack of exercise may be part of the problem…

Is the pandemic keeping you from exercising? 

If your writing habit is going to heck, lack of exercise may be one of the main reasons.

Yes, I know you’re thinking the real problem is the stress of social isolation, worries about your job and money, and the challenge of having your kids and partner underfoot all day. But remember this:

Exercise not only reduces stress and anxiety, but also helps reduce symptoms of depressionAs well, it helps you sleep better at night and may improve your self-control.  

A large study has even shown that mild to moderate exercise – performed about three times a week – reduced the risk of dying during the Hong Kong flu outbreak of 1998.

I also think exercise — particularly walking — helps with writing. Perhaps this is because it has a positive impact on creativity. I devote a chapter of my book Your Happy First Draft to this topic (chapter 5), but let me give you a highlight here:

Researchers from Stanford in 2014 published a set of studies designed to measure the way walking changes creativity

They asked 176 college students to complete different tests of creative thinking while either sitting, walking on a treadmill, or wandering through Stanford’s campus. In one test, for example, volunteers had to come up with unusual uses for everyday objects, such as a button. On average, the students thought of between four and six more creative uses for the objects while they were walking than when they were seated.

Another experiment asked volunteers to think about a metaphor, such as “a budding cocoon,” and come up with a unique but equivalent metaphor. Some 95 per cent of students who went for a walk were able to do so, compared to only 50 per cent of those who never stood up.

The challenge with exercising now, of course, is that most gyms are closed and many people are reluctant to venture outside — so, what can you do? Work out from home or close to home.

There are actually some big advantages to exercising this way:

  • It takes less time because you don’t need to travel anywhere
  • It may help you stick with exercise because it’s easier to maintain a routine at home
  • You can watch your favourite TV show while exercising without having to fight for control of the monitor at the gym
  • You set a good example for your own children or partner

My favourite form of exercise? It’s always been walking. My husband and I go for a 40-minute walk in our neighbourhood after dinner every evening (photo at the top of this post shows my husband in our walk among cherry blossoms last week.) Being outside somewhere near trees and other greenery amplifies the benefits of exercise by letting us breathe better, cleaner air and reducing our fatigue by connecting us to nature. 

Just be sure to keep six feet of distance from anyone outside of your family group. I find crowds tend to thin in the evening and my husband and I have recently taken to walking in laneways, which are wider than sidewalks and allow for greater distance if we encounter others. If I lived in New York City or another hotspot, I’d also wear a mask. 

On top of the evening strolls, I walk — a lot — during the day at my treadmill desk (as I am while I’m writing this post), usually accumulating more than 15,000 steps daily (more than five miles). I keep promising to prepare a video of me at my desk but, sadly, can’t do that right now because my videographer and I are social distancing…. (We’ll get to it when the pandemic is over.) 

Short of a treadmill desk, you can also go online to find programs that can help. My daughter, who is a kinesiology grad and a workout fiend, recommends downdog (free until May 1) and the Peloton App (currently free for 90 days.) If you have an online exercise site you really like, please add a comment below (especially if the site is free or offering a substantial discount.)

If you don’t like walking or find it too boring, you can also bike or run. But just remember to be extra-thoughtful and not get your respiratory droplets or sweat anywhere near others. I must confess that I cringe and jump back when runners get too close.

If you want to do a gym-type of workout at home and don’t have any of the gear, remember that you can repurpose many household objects. Tin cans (especially heavy ones like chickpeas or canned tomatoes) can fill in for light weights. They’re perfect for bicep curls! Towels can replace resistance bands. You can step up and down from a kitchen step-stool for 20 minutes to get your heart rate up. Or you can tape a line of masking tape to the carpet and hop back and forth over it — one minute on, one minute off — for 20 minutes.

Physically demanding chores also count as exercise, too. Think about:

  • Vacuuming (especially if you need to move furniture)
  • Scrubbing counters in the kitchen or bathroom
  • Gardening (this gets you outside, too)
  • Washing windows
  • Using a push lawn mower

Try to make exercise part of your regular routine by working out at the same time every day. Remember, it takes anywhere from 18 to 254 days to form a new habit, so — just like for writing — don’t feel discouraged if you miss a day. Just forgive yourself and get back to it the following day. 

Who knows? Maybe the coronavirus can teach us to have more patience with ourselves? And maybe the result of learning one habit — modest exercise — will help us develop the second habit — writing daily.


Want to establish a modest but sustainable writing routine? Consider applying to my Get It Done program. I’ll be holding a free training session about how to be a more effective academic writer, this Friday, April 17 at 1 pm Pacific and the session will include helpful info about Get It Done. To register for the free training, go here to secure a spot. 


My video podcast last week addressed how to identify your next writing steps. Or, see the transcript, and consider subscribing to my YouTube channel. If you have a question about writing you’d like me to address, be sure to send it to me by email, Twitter or Skype and I’ll try to answer it in the podcast.


How are you fitting exercise into your day during the pandemic? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section below.  Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by April 30/20 will be put in a draw for an electronic copy of my first book, 8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better. Please, scroll down to the comments, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join Disqus to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest. It’s easy!


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