We scan the streets and sidewalks ahead, searching for zombies. Some lurch, straining against the pull of dogs on leashes, while others run or speed toward us on bikes. Face masks will not protect us from their coughs, sneezes and airborne sputum, so we take evasive action — darting left onto a side street, cutting up an alley or jogging across the grass to steer clear.
Soon after social-distancing recommendations were implemented, my wife and I began playing a game that we call “Avoid the Zombies.” It was our way of making light of a frightening time while also getting our exercise. We play as if our lives depend on it.
With the shutdown of fitness centers and gyms, and the closure of ballfields and basketball courts, legions of homebound individuals are seeking new ways to exercise and break up the monotony of the coronavirus stay-home order.
As a freelance writer who has worked from home for most of the past two decades, I learned long ago that my home is also a prison that I must escape daily to stay fit and sane. Sometimes I run, sometimes I walk, sometimes I ride my bike, sometimes I kayak or jump rope on my porch. The activity doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is consistency. You don’t need a gym and you don’t need expensive equipment.
With that in mind, here are some fitness tips for thriving during the pandemic. (Though, it’s always important to maintain social-distancing measures and consider that if you are sick, self-quarantining or immunocompromised, you should ignore these tips and stay inside!)
Find a hill
It’s been said that some of the healthiest and longest-lived people on the planet are Sardinian shepherds who spend their days hiking up and down hills tending their flocks. Am I suggesting you get some sheep? No, but you should march up and down hills. This is Seattle. Hills are everywhere.
Walk them. If you are fit, run them.
My wife and I live at the foot of a steep but short hill that rises for three blocks. This hill is our gym. When pressed for time, we walk briskly or jog to the top, pause for a moment to enjoy the view, then descend and repeat. Road cyclists call these “hill repeats,” and they are highly effective at packing an intense amount of exercise into a brief amount of time.
Be like a puppy
My wife and I like to exercise together, but I have higher fitness goals. The solution? It’s called “puppy dogging.” When we come to a hill or staircase, I kiss my beautiful wife on the cheek and then take off running. At the top, I turn around and walk back down to my wife, returning like a puppy dog.
While we didn’t invent this term, I like it because it implies a silly joyousness and love of life. Like a goofy puppy, I’m always happy to see Katie. And she is even happier to see me exhaust myself.
Grab a dumbbell
A few summers back, Katie and I were walking around Lake Union when we noticed a family friend, an older gentleman whom we shall refer to as Pat the Dood, walking toward us, holding tiny one-pound dumbbells in each hand and pumping his arms wildly. The sight brought smiles to our faces because Pat the Dood clearly was not trying to look cool. He was exercising outside and having a blast.
Now, when I want to increase the intensity of a walk or jog, I grab an old pair of eight-pound dumbbells that we keep on the porch and carry them for the duration of our outings. Holding weights, even light ones, is an effective and time-efficient way to exercise your arms while exercising your legs.
Drop and give me 20
As many of the fittest people know, you don’t need fancy equipment to stay strong. All you need is your own body weight. Push-ups are the prime example. If you have time for just one arm exercise per day, make it a set of push-ups. If you aren’t strong enough to do regular push-ups, do them from your knees. Go to exhaustion, stop and take a minute to recover, then go to exhaustion again. Do this daily and you will be ready for the gun show by summer’s end.
The journey is the destination
Exercising outdoors in the coronavirus era requires flexibility and imagination. Instead of sticking to a set route or destination, let the quietest streets be your path. Flow toward the empty spaces. There is no wrong direction. Fitness is not a destination that can ever be reached. It is a daily journey.
Again, if you are sick, stay indoors. But for those who feel healthy and need some mental stimulation, get outside. The air is clean. The views of the Seattle skyline and the snowy peaks of the Olympic Peninsula and Cascade Range are the most beautiful I’ve seen in my five years as a Seattle resident. Spring is in bloom and the trees are filled with birds. Even the hardest times bring small gifts. Go out and find them in your own neighborhood. And if you see me coming, cross the street, wave and shout hello. I’m a friendly zombie who dreams of Sardinia.