Exercise and Social Distancing

Medically Reviewed by Michael Dansinger, MD on August 14, 2022

COVID-19 has derailed almost everyone’s normal exercise routine. But it’s important to stay on track, especially if you have diabetes.

Exercise helps you cut stress and stay at a healthy weight. It also helps control your blood sugar and blood pressure, and it can help you sleep better.  It boosts your immune system and may even prevent serious complications of COVID-19.  And because it helps control blood sugar, it’s a key part of diabetes treatment.

You can still be active, even when you’re social distancing.

Your home is the safest place to exercise. If you have a treadmill, stationary bike, or a few dumbbells, you’re all set. If not, your own body weight works just fine.

Here are some ways you can get your sweat on at home:

Bodyweight exercises. This includes oldies but goodies like jumping jacks, pushups, sit-ups, deep squats, and lunges. To get the best results, don’t rest between exercises. A sample routine: 50 jumping jacks, 20 push-ups, 50 crunches, and 20 deep squats.

Stretching exercises. This means active stretching such as yoga, Pilates, and barre. There are plenty of videos online that can show you how to do these things.

Walk on a treadmill. Aim for about an hour of brisk walking every day.  Don’t have time? Break it up into two or three shorter segments.  For a better workout, raise the incline.

Ride on a stationary bike. Two 15-minute sessions a day should do it. Try to vary how fast and hard you work.

Strength training. Dumbbells and barbells have been in short supply since the start of the pandemic. If you don’t have weights, try fitness bands, heavy water bottles, or a backpack filled with books. Aim for three sets of 15 reps with a medium weight, eight reps with a heavy weight, or until you’re too tired to lift one more time.

Try exercise videos. No matter what your fitness level or interest, there’s an online exercise video for you. Most are free, and the variety is huge. Try something different every day to make sure you don't get bored.

Take a virtual class. These aren’t free, but they do help support local gyms, trainers, and instructors. Some gyms gear their workouts to specific needs and fitness levels.

Tackle tough household projects. Garden, clean gutters, paint the garage. You’ll build muscle and burn calories.

Natural airflow slows the spread of the virus. It’s healthy and safe to exercise outside as long as you take a few precautions.

Pick a place and time of day when it’s not crowded. Packed parks, beaches, hiking trails, and busy city streets are off-limits.

Observe mask etiquette. You don’t have to wear a mask if you’re by yourself, but bring one along so you can put it on if people come around.  

Watch your social distance. Little droplets called aerosols travel much farther when you walk or run. Allow at least 10-30 feet between you and others. If you have to pass another runner or walker, try to keep your distance.

A lot depends on the gym and how widespread COVID-19 is in the area. Big, airy gyms where machines are spaced far apart and cleaned after every use are better than cramped gyms that don’t follow safety protocols. And a city or county where there’s little COVID-19 is safer than where the numbers are much higher. Still, for people with chronic conditions like diabetes, experts say gyms should be off-limits for now. If you’re not sure what to do, talk to your doctor.  

Show Sources


Norwalkhospital.org: “Exercise is Essential for Well-Being during COVID-19 Pandemic.”

News.virginia.edu: “Exercise May Protect Against Deadly COVID-19 Complication, Research Suggests.”

IDF.org (International Diabetes Federation): “Home-based exercise for people with diabetes.”

Care.diabetesjournals.org: “Physical Activity/Exercise and Diabetes: A Position Statement of the American Diabetes Association.”

Barbara Ferrer, PhD, director, Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

Urbanphysics.net: “Towards aerodynamically equivalent COVID19 1.5 m social distancing for walking and running.”

Linsey Marr, PhD, professor of civil and environmental engineering, Virginia Tech.

Health.clevelandclinic.org: “Headed Back to the Gym After Quarantine? Here’s What to Consider.”

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