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Spring a great time to become more active

Note: This post is written by the team of The ONE Group (Oncology – Nutrition – Exercise) at Penn State College of Medicine as part of a first-person blog about their work. Learn more about the group here.

Spring is almost here. And for many us, it couldn’t come fast enough.  After close to two years of closures, masks and social distancing, having a ‘normal’ routine feels like a distant memory. The great news is that we have an opportunity to reset the narrative and start again. It is also the perfect time to revisit your plans for exercise and active living.

Maybe you had a favorite class at your gym before the pandemic. One of the many disappointments of the pandemic were gym closures, and for some, it was hard to replace a comfortable routine with something else. The silver lining there is that on-demand exercise programming has never been more robust.  For families with children, the YMCA has a range of offerings from barre class to boot camp. Even for older adults, many of whom are not used to accessing programming via video platforms, options have never been better. For adults 65 years and older, the Silver Sneakers program offers lots of age-appropriate workout options, from yoga to aerobics. Choosing programming on-demand has the added benefit of choosing the time that works best for you.

We recently did an assessment of Silver Sneakers programs in Central PA, and found that the majority of facilities were able to continue providing programming to their members throughout the pandemic months, partly because of the ability to adapt to remote platforms. In our studies in the ONE group, we also offer instructions on using remote platforms for new users, and our “Zoom 101” module is a popular choice that opens so many possibilities for our study participants. For example, check out the REJOIN study for older breast cancer survivors. REJOIN is an exercise research study for breast cancer survivors, which uses a Zoom-based intervention. If you’re interested in learning more, contact Robinn Moyer at 717-531-0003, x289349 or email for details.

Box with details about the REJOIN study for older breast cancer survivors. There is a photo of a woman doing a push-up. The text reads: Exercise research study for breast cancer survivors. Interested? Contact Robinn Moyer at 717-531-0003, ext. 289349 or email for details.

The other challenge with the gym restrictions was a loss of social connectedness. Many community members use the gym and other community resources to stay connected with their friends and neighbors.  This not only feels good, but is a critical component for good physical and mental health. The online options are certainly preferable to being completely alone — indeed social isolation has been very harmful to health and welfare of many families and especially older people. So, as gyms and other businesses are slowly starting to open again, it’s good to think about how those resources might help you to become more social connected and also live a healthier lifestyle. Maybe this would be a good time to plan a walking club. You can call your friends that you used to walk with pre-pandemic and plan an outing. Or just plan a walking outing, because you haven’t been able to talk in a while. With the upcoming change in daylight savings coming March 13, planning an evening walk at the park may now be more feasible and provide plenty of fresh air and conversation.

If you are feeling more ambitious, many nonprofits are now planning outdoor walks or runs for charity. Setting a goal to do a 5K, for example, may be the perfect motivation to get out and walk or run to be prepared for that day. You can use this as an opportunity to involve your spouse or loved ones for social support in the quest for better health. The added benefit is that these events will support important charities that were also hindered by pandemic closures. American Cancer Society and the PA Breast Cancer Coalition are two well-respected non-profits that the Penn State Cancer Institute works with regularly and would appreciate your support.

As you are thinking about becoming more active, don’t forget that exercise isn’t only about high-impact and high-intensity activities. Many adults prefer a brisk walk and indeed, if you do this consistently will offer many health benefits. But, you should also think about exercising your muscles to promote longevity and physical independence. Two days of activities that include strength training workouts can improve strength and stamina and have been demonstrated to improve ability to complete daily activities (like carrying groceries or doing stairs). If don’t like lifting weights, using your own body weight, through exercises like push-ups or yoga, can also be very beneficial. One very effective, relatively new strength workout that many enjoy are barre workouts. The barre workout includes tiny, but intense movements that systematically strengthen muscles throughout the body. It is called the barre workout because it often include a ballet barre for balance, but it can also be done at home, without a barre or a studio. It is a fun workout for anyone that has a dance history or maybe secret ambitions to become a dancer.  As we mentioned, this is the time to reset the narrative, so you should follow your instincts.

If you are looking for instructions or advice on exercise, the ONE group has many resources and free instructional videos. Happy exercising!

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