How to get active indoors
Dreary weather can make it harder to exercise outside. With help from two experts, Rachael Healy presents a guide to keeping moving without leaving the house.
Jayne Miller is a yoga teacher, accredited by British Wheel of Yoga and Yoga Alliance. Sarah Spuffard is Regional Manager at YMCAfit, and a former cardiac rehab practitioner.
In the winter months, getting active outdoors is less appealing. But exercising at home is easy and free, and still helps to control your weight and blood pressure, and reduce your risk of heart disease, as well as many cancers.
Exercising at home doesn’t have to take much extra time. Sarah recommends incorporating small exercises whenever you can throughout the day. “Maybe do 10 minutes in the morning and then 10 minutes in the afternoon; it doesn’t have to be in a full block,” says Sarah. “It’s better than not doing it at all. Even when you’re cleaning your teeth, you can do some small squats or knee-bends.
“You can do leg-kicks or squats while you’re waiting for something to bake or standing at the sink. Just raise your leg backwards for a kick-back. Do that out to the side as well for hip-strengthening.”
Before you start
If you have a heart condition, speak to a GP or nurse first. If you have heart failure, you may wish to avoid positions with your hands above your head, or head below your heart, as your heart has to work harder.
Circuit training means combining a range of exercises to work on different parts of the body. “You can do little circuits at home,” says Sarah. “Walk to one end of the living room, then march on the spot. Have a chair there so you can then do a few sit-to-stands [sit down with your arms stretched out in front of you, stand up with your arms still outstretched, then repeat]. You can also do standing press-ups against the wall. It’s a good idea to do 10 of each and have a little rest in between.”
Generally, you should be aiming to work at a moderate intensity
You can also include step-ups on your stairs, shuttle walks from one end of the living room to the other, single bicep curls using a can of baked beans or double bicep curls using a broom.
Once you’ve mastered this, there are ways to make your workout more challenging. “Sit-to-stand could progress to a squat, then that could progress to a weighted squat where you hold something in your hands,” says Sarah. “With a wall press-up, just step further away from the wall. I’d advise counting things too, for example, start by doing step-ups for a minute, then increase that.”
Generally, you should be aiming to work at a moderate intensity. This means you would be breathing harder, feeling warmer and your heart would be beating faster than usual, but you should still be able to talk.
Jayne has suggested these simple activities with heart patients in mind. Why not add a few to your daily routine?
1. Modified sun salutation
“This is great for getting your energy going in the morning,” says Jayne. “This version is better for those with high blood pressure than the traditional yoga sun salutation.”
Step one: Lunge
Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Take a few deep breaths. Notice the length of your inhale and exhale. Breathe in deeply, then breathe out as you step one foot backwards. Make sure your front knee is directly above your front ankle. Take your hands to your waist. Stay here for a few deep breaths. Move to step two.
Step two: Add a twist
While still in step one, bring your hands to prayer position and twist your torso towards your front leg. Hold for three breaths. Twist back to face forward. Step the back foot forward to join the front foot. Repeat both parts using the opposite legs.
Step three: Cat-cow
Next, get onto all fours on a carpet or rug – take this slowly and gently. Keep your shoulders relaxed. On all fours, with your hands shoulder-width and your knees hip-width apart, arch your spine. This is ‘cat position’. Hold it for three in-and-out breaths. Then slowly concave your spine. This is ‘cow position’. Hold it for another three breaths. Move between these two poses a few times to complete your ‘cat-cow’.
2. 'Dog at wall’ pose
While waiting for the kettle to boil, wake up your spine with Jayne’s modified version of ‘downward dog’. “Create space in the spine with a ‘dog at wall’ position,” she says. “Place your palms against a wall and walk your feet back, carefully drawing your hands down the wall. Make sure the feet are hip-width, and the hips are above the feet. Broaden across the upper back.”
3. Chair pose
Begin standing. Exhale to lift your pelvic floor muscles as you bend your knees and sit on an imaginary chair. Make sure your knees don’t go further forward than your toes. Inhale as you extend your arms forward at shoulder height. Exhale as you hold your arms here. Inhale to stand up straight. Repeat a few times.
4. Tree pose
Bend one knee and bring the foot flat against the inner thigh of your standing leg (or below the knee if you find it difficult to balance). Spread the toes on your standing foot and take deep breaths. If you feel steady, raise your arms and hold them above your head for three breaths (skip if you have heart failure or high blood pressure). Bring your hands to prayer position, then lower your foot to the floor. Repeat with the other leg.
Chair-based activities are a great way to make the most of time you spend watching TV or listening to the radio – and ideal for those with limited mobility. “You can do sitting postures on a sofa or a kitchen chair,” says Jayne. “But your feet have to be flat on the floor. You might need to sit right at the front of your chair. You want to be sitting with a really erect spine, with the crown of your head up.”
1. Seated backbend
Bring your fingertips to the back of your chair with your palms facing away from you. Press into your feet strongly. Lift your chest, bring your chin to your chest and draw your belly back to your spine.
“Small backbends are brilliant, because most people tend to hunch forwards a lot in their daily lives,” says Jayne. “You’re helping to strengthen the back muscles, which can protect against a dropping belly and rounding of the shoulders.”
2. Seated twist
Take your right hand to the back of the chair at the base of your spine. Take the left hand to the right knee. Then lift up and twist to the right on the exhale. Come back to the centre on an inhale. Exhale as you repeat on the other side. Do this a few times on each side. Try to hold each twist for three breaths.
3. Seated sideways bend
With feet flat on the floor and spine straight, bring one hand down to the outer edge of the chair. Bring the other hand up and over your head and bend sideways towards the hand that is on the edge of the chair. Hold for three breaths. Repeat on the other side.
4. Seated forward fold
Put your elbows on the table in front of you and rest here so you’ve got a long, straight spine. Pushing down into your feet and the bones you sit on, breathe deeply. Jayne says: “This is really good for backache.”
Try an even deeper fold (unless you have heart failure or high blood pressure). Bring your chest to your thighs and release your hands to the floor. If you’ve got low blood pressure, come back up slowly.
“Take a moment before you start any exercises to check in with your breath,” says Jayne. “Inhale steadily through the nose – feel the sensation of breath at the tips of your nostrils – then exhale steadily through the nose. Count the length of the inhale, without altering it, and then the exhale. Do this for a few rounds.
“When you are moving through postures, if you notice your breath becomes ragged, short or you find it hard to breathe, back off or stop and rest.”