How Often Should You Work Out During the Pandemic? Doctors Weigh In

Maggie Ryan

Chances are your workout routine has changed a lot since the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic hit. Many of us lost our usual gyms, classes, and workout buddies, and with them, the motivation to work out altogether, while others are prioritizing exercise even more, using it as a way to relieve stress and feel good. Either way, a major shakeup to your fitness routine can leave you feeling like you're back at square one, figuring out what kinds of workouts are feasible in your new schedule and how often you should be doing them.

When we talk about how often or how much we "should" work out, the answer always depends on your goals, your fitness level, the kinds of workouts you're doing, and, of course, the time you have. In other words, it's different for everyone, but there are some key pointers to consider when creating your personal routine. POPSUGAR tapped experts from different fields - a therapist, a sports medicine doctor, and an infectious disease specialist – to talk about the factors you should look at during the coronavirus pandemic so you can create the best fitness schedule for your needs, right now.

Mental Health

Exercise can help to ward off or prevent symptoms of depression and anxiety, both of which you may be experiencing now, said Judy Ho, PhD, clinical and forensic neuropsychologist and host of the SuperCharged Life podcast. "When you work out, you release certain neurotransmitters that help you to feel better, feel good, and to feel more competent," she explained. Finishing a workout, she noted, also gives you a feeling of confidence and accomplishment that can permeate the rest of your day. On top of that, working out promotes mindfulness. "You really just focus in on what's going on in front of you at the present moment," Dr. Ho explained, which can prevent you from catastrophizing or dwelling on anxious thoughts.

Dr. Ho recommended getting in some kind of movement every day to reap these mental health benefits. Work within the limits of your abilities and time constraints, even if it means your daily "workout" is just walking the length of your house a few times or stretching for five minutes. "Just a few minutes, every couple of hours can really do you a lot of good, especially if you're feeling cooped up," Dr. Ho said. "That physical movement helps to freshen up your mind, give you a bit more energy, and help you to develop a different perspective."

In terms of specific workouts, Dr. Ho said cardio can help with stress relief, while resistance training can boost your sense of accomplishment and inner strength. At the end of the day, any type of movement can have positive effects on your mental health, and the more often you do it, the better.

Related: Is It Safe to Go Back to the Gym? Here Are 5 Factors to Consider, According to a Doctor

How to Make Sure Your Gym Is Safe During Coronavirus
How to Make Sure Your Gym Is Safe During Coronavirus

Immune System Health

Emerging research shows that exercise may improve the health of your immune system, an important benefit to think about during a pandemic. One 2019 review concluded that moderate exercise is associated with a decreased risk of illness, and that exercise overall has an anti-inflammatory effect on your body. "There is almost never a downside to a healthy exercise routine," said Anthony Barile, MD, infectious disease medical director at Health First. "A healthy lifestyle with a nutritious diet and regular exercise routine not only helps boost your immune system but also helps you take care of your mental health."

It's worth noting that, according to the same review, unusually intense exercise may actually make you more susceptible to illness. In other words, don't start doing seven high-intensity workouts a week in hopes of reaping major immunity rewards, if that's not what you're used to; it might backfire. Following a routine that's healthy for your whole body, with a good balance of cardio, strength training, and rest days, will be the best course for your immune health. Which brings us to . . .

Injury Prevention

Injuries keep you from working out, plain and simple, and home workouts can cause them just as easily as those at the gym. Overuse injuries (think: shin splints, tendonitis, runner's knee, stress fractures) are the biggest thing to watch out for, particularly if you're ramping up a workout routine or just starting one, said James Gladstone, MD, chief of sports medicine at the Mount Sinai Health System.

Doing different kinds of workouts (not just the same exercises over and over) and ramping up slowly, depending on your current fitness level, will help to prevent these kinds of injuries, Dr. Gladstone said. He recommended working out three to five times a week with a mixture of workouts (cardio, strength, flexibility) and at least one or two days of rest. Maintaining flexibility is especially important, he explained: "The more flexible you are, the more you can accommodate an extra little twist, a bend that's a little more than you're used to" and that might otherwise lead to an injury.

If you do get injured, stop the activity that's causing pain, stretch if it helps, apply ice, and take pain medication if you're able. If the pain lingers for more than three days, Dr. Gladstone said, see your doctor; most in-person appointments are safe right now, especially if the office is screening people, cleaning their facility regularly, and encouraging patients to wear masks.

How Often Should I Work Out During the Coronavirus Pandemic?

To tie it all together, it's best to do traditional workouts (runs, strength workouts, HIIT sessions, yoga flows) three to five times a week. On your days off, to promote mental and general health (including your immune system), try going for a walk or doing some relaxing yoga. You'll get the benefits of movement seven days a week while steering clear of overuse injuries, a win-win all around. Here's a four-week, no-gym workout plan to help you get started.

Related: The Biggest Mistake I Made in Virtual Bodyweight Workout Classes Was Not Warming Up

The Importance of Warmups Before Virtual Bodyweight Workouts
The Importance of Warmups Before Virtual Bodyweight Workouts

More From

  • Self-Care Sunday: Journaling Has Been Unexpectedly Making Me Feel More Centered

    I was that kid who loved going shopping for school supplies. I'm a sucker for a great notebook, and I definitely have pens I like and pens I don't like. When I see a cute notebook, sometimes I grab it, even though I usually write things down on my phone or computer. Well, this past weekend I was feeling a bit stagnant. I had so many thoughts running in my head, and I knew I had to express my emotions in some way. After having a conversation with my parents, I had the sudden urge to write my thoughts down, but I knew I couldn't just open my Notes app. I had to actually take pen to paper. I grabbed one of my pretty colored pens (the purple one, to be exact) and a journal I keep by my bed that hadn't been opened in months, if not years. I always hear about the power of journaling from some of my favorite wellness influencers, but frankly, I thought it was trivial. However, there is something about physically writing down your thoughts that makes them that much more tangible, and that much more likely to actually stick in your mind. Plus, writing with a colored pen is fun. Now, my notebook is getting filled up again, and I'll probably need another one soon. With all our minds going a million different places at once, it's easy to neglect some self-care, but this is probably one of the simplest acts I can think of that allows me to prioritize my mental health. Writing down my thoughts makes them feel less overwhelming and allows me to make sense of my emotions. I really didn't think it could be this simple. If you're feeling like you need a moment of self-care, grab a pen and paper. Related: If You Need Us, We'll Be Relaxing in Our New Hammocks

  • Kanye West Tweets That He's Running For President in 2020

    Is Kanye West heading down the campaign trail? On July 4, the 43-year-old rapper tweeted that he is running for president in the upcoming 2020 election against Donald Trump - whom he has publicly supported in the past - and Joe Biden.

  • Thinking About Playing Tennis Amid COVID-19? Take USTA's Safety Tips Into Consideration

    We know from past experts we've interviewed that some evidence suggests that exercise can increase the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), specifically when it's exercise that is more aerobically intense and in groups. That being said, there are two factors that make workouts safer and reduce the risk of spreading the virus: being outdoors and being physically distanced from other people.

  • 40 Feel-Good Musicals You Can Watch on Disney+ Right Now

    I don't know about you, but nothing lifts my spirits like a good movie musical. There's just something about singing at the top of my lungs that brings me instant joy. Thankfully, Disney+ has me covered, with an abundance of titles on their streaming service. From award-winning musicals like The Sound of Music and Mary Poppins to Disney classics like Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King, there are so many options to choose from. There are even Disney Channel original movies like High School Musical and Camp Rock for that extra dose of nostalgia. Plus, Broadway's Hamilton is now streaming on Disney+. If you're looking for a feel-good movie to stream as you stay at home, keep scrolling for titles to add to your watchlist. Related: These 31 Musicals on Netflix Will Have You Singing and Dancing Along