How to Stay Active When Sheltering in Place

Here are some ideas to help you and your loved ones stay fit and have fun while social distancing.

A person holds a plant in a garden.

When you’re in the midst of a global pandemic, it can be hard to prioritize fitness. Yet staying active can also help relieve stress and clear your mind. Although much of the country is now socially distancing or self-quarantining, we can still move our bodies in ways that feel great and even spark moments of joy.

Here are some creative ways to stay active and be in nature while still following social-distancing guidelines.

Build a backyard obstacle course

“Consider what you can jump over and up on, what you can crawl under, what you can climb on, and how you can challenge your balance,” says Paul Canada, a Chicagoland parkour and acrobatics coach who also builds backyard obstacle courses for clients. Here are his suggestions for using things you might already have at home:

  • Set up Hula Hoops or tires at different distances and practice jumping from one to the next. Or place two two-by-fours parallel to one another and jump across to practice a precision landing.
  • Balance a broomstick between two chairs of the same height and crawl under it.
  • Use a ladder tilted at an angle to practice climbing. Make sure the ladder is secured!
  • Fill bags or buckets and practice loaded carries, focusing on keeping good posture. Walk on a two-by-four for a greater challenge.
  • Add in cardio and conditioning by running a lap around your house or apartment building between rounds of your obstacle course.

Host a “Moving Night”

Substitute your usual retreat to the couch with active challenges you can do together:

Whole-House Circuit: Set up a circuit workout that spans every room of your house. Designate an exercise and number of reps for each room and see who can complete the most rounds in a set amount of time. For extra fun, choose exercises unique to each space, such as single-leg-toilet-seat squats or kitchen-counter pushups.

Animal Relay Races: Split up into two teams and set up a start and finish line. Race to your target and back while moving like different animals. You can bear crawl, crab walk, hop like a kangaroo, slither like a snake, flop like a fish, or waddle like a penguin.

Dance Party: Put together a playlist of your favorite dance music, dress up like you’re at a party, pour some fancy drinks, and dim the lights. Dance by yourself or with your social-distancing circle!

Virtual Workout: For a great impromptu fitness class, gather your shelter-in-place crew and pick from the many on-demand and at-home workouts available.

Go all out on a landscaping or gardening project

“One thing that is going to continue to bring us some happiness during this time is our outdoor spaces. I don’t think nature has ever been more important than it is right now,” says Julie Moir Messervy, a Vermont landscape designer and author of New Landscaping Ideas That Work. If you are lucky enough to have a yard, Messervy offers some basic steps for cultivating your outdoor space:

  • If you can, position your garden facing south and in an area that receives full sunlight. Cut out a section of grass with a spade or hand trowel.
  • Add compost to the soil to make it soft and friable.
  • Create a path leading to your garden, considering how you might add elements like stepping stones later.
  • If you have children, designate an area of the garden as theirs and allow them to add whimsical décor. Hand out shovels and let them get busy digging in the dirt.

Level up your scavenger hunt

Try one of these creative scavenger-hunt ideas on your next neighborhood stroll.

ABCs in Nature: Look for items that start with each letter of the alphabet. Bonus: Take photos of the items you find and print them out later to make a book.

Name “I Spy”: Walk around your neighborhood looking for the letters in your name, either as found in nature (e.g., a tree branch shaped like a “Y”), or on manmade objects (e.g., the “S” in a stop sign). Photograph each letter and later assemble them to create a name collage. You can use a digital graphic-design app, such as Canva, or simply print and glue each letter on a poster.

Make the woods your playground and your gym

Your local forest preserve has everything you need to get everyone moving. Go off trail and find an area with lots of fallen trees. Come up with an obstacle course, let your kids come up with their own imaginative play, or just climb stuff. Some moves to try:

  • Crawl on a log.
  • Hang and swing from a low, sturdy branch.
  • Vault over a fallen tree.
  • Jump or do step-ups onto a tree stump.

Conquer your neighborhood

During their annual GOvember challenge, Lively Athletics, a store in Oak Park, Ill., provides customers with a local map and challenges them to walk or run every street in town, highlighting or crossing them off as they go. You can print out a map of your own town and do the same. Take photos near landmarks and unique things you discover. Feeling extra motivated? Use your finds to create a scavenger hunt for others in your town.

is a writer and personal trainer in River Forest, Ill.

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