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Published on June 23, 2020

The good and the risky about online exercising

Online Exercise

Here’s what I like about online workouts: I’m always doing a great job.

No matter if my yoga bridge is awkward or I skip a few Zumba steps, the online instructor looks me right in the screen and tells me I’m amazing! Keep it up!

But while many of us have embraced exercise videos or streamed fitness classes during the COVID-19 pandemic, we need to take care, said Jennifer Avery, PT, MS, a physical therapist with Cape Cod Healthcare Rehabilitation Services at the Orleans Marketplace location. For example, if it’s a video, the instructor can’t really see us or adjust to our abilities.

“Think about going incredibly easy on yourself because when you’re doing something new, you get so focused on trying to do it right that you’re not feeling what’s going on in your body,” said Avery, who keeps fit by running and is studying to be a yoga teacher. “If you’re doing the exercises and you feel really sore, you’re going to have to take a few days off. And if you hurt yourself, you’re going to have to take a lot of days off.”

Even during a time of social distancing, it’s important to keep moving, she said.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends healthy adults get at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise. That could include walking, dancing, swimming, cleaning the house or mowing the lawn. The HHS also recommends adults do muscle-strengthening activities that involve all major muscle groups two or more days a week. Older adults should do as much as their health allows but be sure to include balance-enhancing exercises, such as tai chi, the agency says. And it’s always good to check with your doctor before starting any new exercise regime.

Avery suggests setting realistic goals and starting with exercise two or three times a week.

How can you make sure an online workout works for you? Avery has five tips:

  1. Start slowly. Read the description of the class and, if it’s a video class, watch all or some of it before you attempt the exercises. As Avery said, it’s easier to progress with exercise than backtrack if your body is overworked. “I always tell people, when you’re trying something new, just do the motions without any extra weight and then see how you feel the next day.”
  2. Google the instructor. Look for years of experience and professional training, such as physical therapy, occupational therapy, physiology or certification from a recognized organization or exercise program such as the American College of Sports Medicine or the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Avery says yoga instructors should have certification in a course that includes at least 200 hours of instruction.
  3. Ignore peer pressure. Just because the instructor or other Zoom participants are doing something doesn’t mean you have to. Look for an instructor who provides modifications and acknowledges that not all students can, for example, do inverted postures in yoga. You don’t have to do the same number of repetitions for every exercise. For example, if you’ve been walking regularly, your legs might be more up to a strength challenge than your arms.
  4. Check your space. Remember you’re not at a gym or other location designed for exercise. The floor should be level and the space should be clear of anything -- rugs, furniture, pets, small children -- that might cause you to trip or fall. “With older people we worry a little bit more about their balance,” Avery said, “and so set up any exercise class so that you have something sturdy to hold on to.” That could be a chair or the footboard of your bed. If you’re doing yoga, make sure you have a mat or towel and consider working out on a rug so it’s comfortable to lie on your side.
  5. Change it up. “With all the video offerings out there, you could do a walking video once or twice a week, and then it could be a yoga video once or twice a week and a strength training one, and so on,” Avery said. “The variety is really good for people and important.”