With the threat of COVID-19 taking hold, more people will be spending a considerable amount of time in self-isolation, but there are ways people of all ages and ability can keep active through a variety of exercises.

Centre for Ageing Betters Senior Programme Manager for Healthy Ageing, Jess Kuehne, outlines the exercises you can do at home, depending on ability, during a time of self-isolation. 

As the threat of COVID-19 keeps growing, the likelihood of the older people being asked to self-isolate for long periods of time increases. Regardless of age, many of us will be spending more time at home due to self-isolation. This poses the challenge of how to stay active, which is incredibly important for maintaining physical as well as mental health.

When it comes to physical activity, we know that our balance and muscle strength is crucial for allowing us to remain healthy and independent, and key to avoiding at-home injuries and falls. The UK chief medical officer’s guidelines recommend twice weekly strength and balance training for adults of all ages.  

Yet if we are all about to spend significantly more time indoors and being highly inactive for long periods of time, we run the risk of losing physical capability, known as ‘deconditioning’. A similar phenomenon is common when spending long periods of time in hospital. This is why being active while in isolation will help you maintain your ability to do everyday activities and reduce your risk of losing physical capabilities.

Fortunately, there are many ways we can all keep up our strength and balance exercises while remaining indoors, without the need for exercise equipment or even much space. Simple exercises include sit to stand, wall press-ups, side-steps, heel raises and marching.  

The NHS recommends the following exercises:

  1. Mini-squats

Rest your hands on the back of the chair for stability and stand with your feet hip-width apart. Slowly bend your knees as far as is comfortable, keeping them facing forwards. Aim to get them over your big toe. Keep your back straight at all times. Gently come up to standing, squeezing your buttocks as you do so. Repeat 5 times. 

  1. Wall press-up 

Stand an arm’s length from the wall. Place your hands flat against the wall at chest level, with your fingers pointing upwards. With your back straight, slowly bend your arms, keeping your elbows by your side. Aim to close the gap between you and the wall as much as you can. Slowly return to the start. Attempt 3 sets of 5 to 10 repetitions. 

  1. Bicep curls

Hold a pair of light weights (filled water bottles will do, or tins of beans) and stand with your feet hip-width apart. Keeping your arms by your side, slowly bend them until the weight in your hand reaches your shoulder. Slowly lower again. This can also be carried out while sitting. Attempt 3 sets of 5 curls with each arm. 

  1. One-leg stand 

Start by standing facing the wall, with arms outstretched and your fingertips touching the wall. Lift your left leg, keep your hips level and keep a slight bend in the opposite leg. Gently place your foot back on the floor. Hold the lift for 5 to 10 seconds and perform 3 on each side. 

  1. Heel-to-toe walk 

Standing upright, place your right heel on the floor directly in front of your left toe. Then do the same with your left heel. Make sure you keep looking forward at all times. If necessary, put your fingers against a wall for stability. Try to perform at least 5 steps. As you progress, move away from the wall. 

  1. Step-up

Use a step, preferably with a railing or near a wall, to use as support. Step up with your right leg. Bring your left leg up to join it. Step down again and return to the start position. The key for building balance is to step up and down slowly and in a controlled manner. Perform up to 5 steps with each leg. 

  1. Hip marching 

Sit upright and do not lean on the back of the chair. Hold on to the sides of the chair. Lift your left leg with your knee bent as far as is comfortable. Place your foot down with control. Repeat with the opposite leg. Do 5 lifts with each leg. 

  1. Sit-to-stand

Sit on the edge of the chair, feet hip-width apart. Lean slightly forwards. Stand up slowly using your legs, not arms. Keep looking forward and do not look down. Stand upright and then slowly sit down, bottom-first. Aim for 5 repetitions – the slower, the better. 

  1. Leg extension 

Rest your hands on the back of a chair for stability. Standing upright, raise your left leg backwards, keeping it straight. Avoid arching your back as you take your leg back. You should feel the effort in the back of your thigh and bottom. Repeat with the right leg. Hold the lift for up to 5 seconds and repeat 5 times with each leg. 

  1. Arm raises

Sit upright with your arms by your sides. With palms forwards, raise both arms out and to the side, and up as far as is comfortable. Return to the starting position. Keep your shoulders down and arms straight throughout. Breathe out as you raise your arms and breathe in as you lower them. Repeat 5 times. 

For the full NHS guidance on exercise and physical activity guidelines, you can visit: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/