‘Vacuuming is actually very healthy’: how to stay active in a wet Covid winter

·5-min read
<span>Photograph: Marko Geber/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Marko Geber/Getty Images

It can be difficult, at the best of times, to muster up the motivation to move around on a regular basis.

These, famously, are not the best of times.

Rain continues to batter many parts of Australia, temperatures drop to icy chills (by antipodean standards) and Covid case numbers are still high. In other words, the gym has never looked quite so uninviting, and many days getting there – dry – is a feat in and of itself.

At-home workouts, too, have lost the appeal they may have once held in those early months in 2020. After the past few years – and all the ins and outs of lockdowns aplenty – the words “Yoga with Adriene” are enough to send even the most flexible into an anxiety spiral. Pelotons have not had a great run either.

So what to do? We turned to readers and experts for advice, asking them for their exercise routines in these wet and wild times – “exercise” interpreted very liberally.

Do your chores

Physical activity need not be organised or regimented for us to experience its benefits, says Dr Sandro Demaio, the CEO of VicHealth. “There might be simple things we’ve all heard – take the stairs instead of the escalator; walk one or two stops at the start or end of a journey on a tram or train.”

These activities can all be categorised under the now-ubiquitous concept of incidental exercise – or, in Demaio’s words, “things that we just happen to be doing and getting exercise at the same time”.

Related: Move yourself happy! How to exercise to boost your mood – whatever your fitness level

But incidental exercise doesn’t require leaving the house. Apart from those common examples, many household chores involve physical exertion – light or otherwise – which can improve strength and get the heart rate going. “Very often, people will go to an exercise class which looks incredibly similar to the actions you might do with a vacuum,” says Demaio.

“And ironically, vacuuming is actually very, very healthy. Doing it a little more often – particularly if you’re at home and probably making a bit more of a mess – is a way you can certainly get more exercise.”

The added bonus, of course, is an incredibly tidy household. For those more easily bored (or well-endowed with space), Demaio also recommends house redecorating, or relocating your home office to a different floor so that “every time you need to go to the bathroom or get a drink, you’re going down another set of stairs, which is really great for cardiovascular health”.

One Guardian reader provided a particularly entertaining tactic. “I chop wood for an hour every few days,” wrote Ruby Sea, “not to mention the kindling, the carrying … [my] arms are taking on a musculature I never knew was possible!”

Many peppy pooches also featured in our readers’ suggestions of household activities. “Most days one of us goes running with the dog,” says Emma Coultas, whose labrador-staffie cross is especially speedy. “He gets a decent run in because he has a lot of energy … he’ll run up to 10 kilometres.”

… or do something fun

Coultas has also taken to hosting frenetic dance parties in the living room when the sun goes down. Battery-operated fairy lights get switched on, the aux cord gets handed to the kids, and limbs fly akimbo to Meghan Trainor and Harry Styles. “I don’t get to choose the music,” Coultas says, “because then they bail if I choose.”

“The kids just jump around mostly. I also jump around but then I try and do some more focused moves – some squats and some lunges … it’s just to get their wiggles out before bed if we haven’t had a chance to go outside.”

Demaio, meanwhile, swears by his veggie garden as a plum provider of endorphins. “Gardening is a great strength and stretch-based task,” he says, even for those who may not have the physical capacity for more strenuous exercise. “Digging up, planting, pruning, or bending over to pull weeds up … they’re all really good, and the equivalent of doing your stretches, or doing your weights.”

Take it (very) easy

Getting moving around the house can be as low-effort as walking. Robyn, a Guardian reader who asked us to use her first name only, says she’s “walked every day of my life for 50 years”, but lately has turned to indoor walking videos to maintain her fitness levels as she recovers from open-heart surgery.

The variety she uses is from a channel called Fabulous50s, and it’s a choose-your-own-adventure routine where you can match your level of output with your own capabilities. “You walk around your lounge room for 30 seconds,” she says. “And then you [might choose] to do squats for 30 seconds. And then it’s back to walking … You haven’t even got to be seen if that’s what worries you.”

Others had more outré suggestions. Dennis, another reader, pairs his stretches with noisy vocal exercises – the tennis player method. As he reads by the fire, he says, “occasionally I stand up and stretch whilst making various animal sounds – deep grunts and high-pitched squeals … I wiggle my legs vigorously and stand to place another log on the fire.” Replicating this may heal your inner child, though not your neighbourly relations.

Trick your brain

If all else fails, simply trick yourself – as Jess Ho does, with a barely-awake grogginess. “I’m gonna sound completely psychotic,” they say. “But I [go] to the gym before I’m fully awake. And cannot yet register that it is freezing.”

Getting there so early in the morning is mostly to avoid a large, sweaty crowd, they say, although it also means there’s little audience to see the haphazard mass of layers, assembled to warm up from the morning bite.

“You know that scene in Friends where Joey is wearing all of Chandler’s clothes? That is what I look like, going into the gym. As the session progresses, there’s a big pile of clothing next to me.”

But not everyone may be as athletic (or disciplined). Ho also has a specific recommendation for exercising at home: blasting RuPaul’s Drag Race as feverish distraction.

“If I’m doing cardio at home, [that] is the best thing to watch. It’s so high-action, fast-paced, and shady … that my heart rate actually goes really high.

“[Drag Race] has definitely improved my cardio.”