Without a doubt we are living in difficult times with the current Covid-19 crisis, and it is sometimes hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but this crisis will pass, and we will be able to go back to do the things we love to do in the company of our friends, family and work colleagues.
In the meantime, it is more important than ever to look after our health, and fortunately we are still able to do that by exercising regularly, with the positive benefits of boosting our immune systems and maintaining our physical and mental health.
As this is a longer blog post than normal, feel free to skip ahead to the summary at the end if you are time poor or if I am boring you!
What are the government guidelines?
So firstly, the current government guidelines are that it is ok to exercise outdoors once a day with no time limit specified. In an informal briefing one minister did suggest that an hour should be sufficient, although this was just an opinion and not based on any data or scientific advice. The aim of the guidelines is to recognize the benefits to health, balanced against the need to protect ourselves and others from contracting the Corona virus.
So then, provided you are maintaining social distancing while out for your run, walk or cycle, it really does not matter whether you go out for 20 minutes or 2 hours.
You can run every day, but should you?
Secondly, it is important to make sure that you are not over exercising just because you can. The fact that you are ‘allowed’ to go out for a run every day does not necessarily mean that you should if you are not used to running every day! The risk of overuse or too much too soon is just the same during this crisis as it is in normal times. You really don’t want to be sidelined by an injury at a time like this so it is best to stay well within your capacity rather than pushing too hard and risking losing that important daily fitness fix.
Boost your immunity?
Thirdly, it is important to consider not just the benefits of regular exercise not just on our physical fitness but in terms of the effects on our immune system. Whilst there is no evidence to link fitness to a reduction in the risk of contracting the Corona virus, we know that exercise boosts the immune system and this may help with recovery if we are unlucky enough to contract the virus. That said it is also important to understand that higher intensity exercise places higher stress on the immune system, and there is a refractory period after such exercise where the immune system is temporarily weakened before it recovers and becomes stronger. With things as they are, I think it is better to stay away from high intensity exercise such as interval training, hill reps and threshold runs which place a high stress on the immune system, and focus on steady state running to maintain overall fitness and endurance without over taxing our immune system. The high intensity stuff can wait until you have something to train for!
Finally, this is a great time to focus on some often-neglected cross training, in particular strength and conditioning. A few simple exercises which can be done at home without breaking any guideline on social distancing will significantly increase your strength, reduce your risk of injury, and set you up for a stronger running physique when this crisis has passed. A good start is my Active Challenge playlist on my YouTube channel which sets out 4 basic exercises for runners and walkers which can be done without any special equipment at home.
So in summary, my recommendations for maintain your running and active fitness during the Covid-19 crisis are as follows:
- Run every day if you want but make sure you do not exceed your normal weekly running mileage by more than 10%
- Run for as long as you need to maintain your fitness goals. There are no official rules as to how long you can stay out.
- Avoid too much high intensity exercise which can place high stress on the immune system, Instead focus on steady runs to maintain overall fitness and endurance.
- Add in some strength training if you are not already doing so to build a stronger running physique and reduce injury risk. Start with simple body weight exercises every other day for safety. Check out my Active Challenge playlist on my YouTube channel to get you started.
Fitness is so important, never more so than now. Following the above guidelines should help to keep you fit and reduce your risk of injury during this crisis.
Stay safe, stay healthy and let’s be careful out there.