Exercising and Social Distancing

by Mike Gosling

In March 2020, in an attempt to curb the spread of COVID-19, the Government announced that the British people would not be allowed to leave the house except for 3 main reasons; traveling for work if unable to work from home, to shop for essentials and for one form of exercise per day e.g. cycle, walk or run.   This put a halt to all forms of official and unofficial sporting events.

One of the main issues many athletes will be encountering at this stage will be the lack of socialisation from teammates, running clubs, cycling clubs, friends and family. Who do you normally train with? How can you maintain these social links? Apps such as Strava are a great starting point for runners and cyclists. You can make closed groups and communicate and track each other’s training. It’s a great forum for following each other and linking in when our normal routine is lost. You can set running and cycling routes for your friends and team mates to use at other times (remembering to follow social distancing rules set by the government) and set challenges to compete for the best time on segments. If you use Strava – add us by searching Physiokinetic Ltd and share what you are up to with us.

But what about those athletes who play team sports, throw, jump or hit – how can you stay connected? Setting up conference calls on Skype or Zoom and completing joint conditioning sessions in your homes is one way to stay linked. Maybe set skill challenges particular to your sport and invite others to compete against you through platforms such as Facebook, Instagram or TikTok.

During this time many of us will more than likely be taking to the streets to get our exercise fix. For those more accustomed to playing fields, pitches and courts, running might be synonymous with the punishment of pre-season training or memories of childhood cross country. However, during this time running might turn out to be your sanctuary and here’s why:

Running has been scientifically proven to:

  1. Make you happy.

Studies have shown that even a single bout of exercise (30mins walking) can lift the mood of someone with a depressive disorder and a study in 2012 study proved that just 30 minutes of running during the week for three weeks boosted sleep quality, concentration and mood during the day.

  1. Running strengthens your muscles and bones.

Running regularly can have a positive impact on bone density and muscle strength warding off age related conditions such as osteoporosis and symptoms associated with osteoarthritis.

  1. Running can help your brain function.

Running also prevents age associated decline of mental function.  A study published in Psychonomic Bulletin & Review (2012) concluded that the evidence is insurmountable that regular exercise helps functions like task switching, selective attention, and working memory.

  1. Running helps you live longer.

Even if you meet just the minimum of amount of physical activity—(30 minutes, 5 times per week), you’ll live longer. Studies show that when different types of people started exercising, they lived longer. Smokers added 4.1 years to their lives; nonsmokers gained 3 years. Even if you’re still smoking, you’ll get 2.6 more years. Cancer survivors extended their lives by 5.3 years. Those with heart disease gained 4.3 years.

  1. Running can reduce your risk of cancer.

There’s plenty of evidence from a review of 170 epidemiological studies in the Journal of Nutrition that showed that regular exercise is associated with a lower risk of certain cancers.

  1. Running helps you lose or maintain weight.

In combination with a healthy calorie-controlled diet running is an easy way to achieve a calorie deficit needed to lose weight. With many of us moving and travelling less than normal running can help get those step counts up!


So how can you make sure you keep safe and enjoy the benefits running has to offer?

It is important that you exercise only by yourself or with members of your household. Running/Walking/Cycling by yourself either before or after work can help clear your mind either preparing you for your day ahead or relax after a day working from home.

Do try to run at “off-peak” hours or avoid busy routes. Whilst canal towpaths are often a useful run route, they do not help maintain 2m social distancing and as such are probably best avoided especially at peak times. When you do pass other people make sure you give them plenty of space.

It goes without saying that you should not run if you are ill- now more than ever!

Take care over training intensity. Whilst exercise and aerobic fitness is linked to good immunity. Research shows that immunity is compromised for up to 72 hours after high intensity efforts. So, limiting these sessions to once per week is sensible.


How can you keep your immune system in the best shape?

  1. Sleep

Sleeping minimum of 8 hours per night has been proven to help support your immune system.

  1. Healthy Diet

It is important to ensure that you are eating a balanced diet ​(aim for 7-8 portions per day of fruit/veg) and avoiding any chronically low energy availability which will compromise your immune system, sleep, recovery and mood. Fish oils (found in salmon and mackerel) contain essential fatty acids and are important in maintaining a healthy immune system. If you don’t like eating these fish then Omega 3 supplementation is a good alternative.

  1. Supplements

Vitamin D, Probiotics and Vitamin C can help reduce the risk of respiratory tract infections. Zinc has been shown to reduce the duration of common colds.

  1. Mental Wellbeing

Stress and anxiety can compromise the immune system. At this difficult time there is a lot of uncertainty and this cause anxiety. Regular exercise can help to manage but you may find that mindfulness apps useful e.g. Headspace and Calm. Goal setting, routine, exercise and talking to friends/family are useful methods to help during these periods.


What if you get ill? When can you start exercising again?

Recent guidance from the leading Doctors in British Athletics have advised that you do not return to any training until you have been symptom free for 7 days. Your body needs to recover and if you return to exercise too soon there is a risk that you could increase your chances of heart and lung complications.

In many cases people cope well with symptoms but you still have a high risk of transmission and it is important that you protect the community and socially isolate yourself until you are symptoms free.

When you do return to exercise take it very easy to start with and gradually build up over the course of 1-2 weeks. Remember to listen to your body and take the time you need to recover.