So maybe we ate a few too many cookies while social distancing at home for months. What’s a few chocolate chips when the world is falling down around us? By now those extra carbs have settled in around our waists, and—as much as we hate to admit it—it’s time to face the music.

But returning to the gym may seem daunting. Gyms are expensive, inconvenient, and, worst of all, crowded. Even with social-distancing measures in place, the idea of working out with dozens of strangers can feel risky. But if there’s one thing we learned during stay-at-home orders, it’s that exercise can happen anywhere, anytime.

For some expert advice about fitting in workouts at home, we turned to Michelle Carter, a former physical education teacher in Washington, D.C., and the director of educational content and programs at the Society of Health and Physical Educators (SHAPE America).

What are some tips for fitting exercise into an educator’s busy day?

Michelle Carter: Time is so scheduled for educators that it’s hard to even fit in a bathroom break let alone a workout. If you create a routine to work out at home, it offers flexibility and convenience. During coronavirus closures, many people found they could carve out a time to exercise with online workouts. Keep up that routine and you can get in a session without having to pack a gym bag. It’s on demand.

If you have to move that time slot up earlier or later in the day this fall, just make a commitment to exercise, and then stick to it. Once it’s a habit, it’s a lot easier.

Can you recommend some time-saving workouts?

Michelle CarterMC: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends 150 minutes a week of low-intensity exercise, but you can cut that down to 75 minutes a week if you ramp up your routine with a high-intensity interval training (H.I.I.T.) workout. It’s a quick way to get a good sweat. H.I.I.T. combines strength-training and cardio in a 20-minute blast that elevates your heart rate and torches calories, even hours after the workout is over.

What are the best workouts for reducing stress?

MC: A high-intensity workout releases endorphins that reduce stress, but if rigorous exercise is not for you, yoga is always calming and is effective in 20-minute to half-hour sessions. Pilates is also a low-intensity workout that’s great at strengthening muscles, especially your core.

But probably the best stress-reducing and energy-boosting form of exercise is a simple walk. A lot of people rediscovered walking while social distancing, and “noticing walks” became a popular trend.

After a busy day, go out for a walk and notice what you see, hear, and feel. Be mindful of what’s around you, and focus on being in the present moment.

What do you see that you hadn’t noticed in your neighborhood before? How are you feeling physically and emotionally? Do you hear birds? Children? How can you make your walk more challenging? Can you find a landmark to run to before slowing down again? It’s an excellent way to collect yourself and your thoughts while moving your body.

We all know that educators aren’t paid as well as they should be. What are some free fitness tools they can take advantage of?

MC: Many gyms, yoga studios, and local recreation centers streamed free fitness classes during stay-at-home orders, and some have continued offering them. There are also a lot of free workouts on YouTube. Personally, I like Fitness Blender (fitnessblender.com) because of the wide array of offerings. There are literally hundreds of different workouts, all free.

Another free service that has a built-in community is MyFitnessPal, which is an app and a website (myfitnesspal.com).

You can use social media as well. I belong to several Facebook groups that are fitness-focused and help keep me accountable. I even tapped into my own community of friends; we hold Zoom meetings every morning to work out together.

The bottom line is that we’ve discovered many new ways to fit in fitness, but what isn’t new is that exercise has always been crucial for health and a strong immune system.

One size does not fit all; don’t make it hard on yourself. If you enjoy it, you’ll stay with it. Let’s show ourselves some grace. We’ve earned it.

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