Find Ways to Move Your Body During Social Distancing

a man in a gray shirt and sweatpants exercises while watching a video on a tabletThis article was written by Renee J. Rogers, associate professor of health and physical activity in the School of Education and programming director of Pitt’s Healthy Lifestyle Institute, for The Conversation. Faculty members and researchers who want to learn more about publishing in The Conversation can read about the process here.

Recent Fitbit activity tracker data show a significant drop in physical activity worldwide that corresponds with the onset of the COVID-19 crisis. In the United States, physical activity has fallen by 12%.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, fewer than a quarter of Americans were getting the recommended amount of exercise.

Marathon May

In addition to her roles of associate professor in Pitt’s School of Education and programming director of the Healthy Lifestyle Institute, Rogers also leads Be Fit Pitt, the health and wellness program for Pitt faculty and staff and the Greater Pittsburgh community.

This month, along with providing daily workouts on its YouTube channel and Pittwire Live, Be Fit Pitt has launched Marathon May: a 26-day challenge that encourages people to think beyond tradition—and find their own “personal marathon” that connects them to a form of physical activity they can enjoy.

“This isn’t about running a race but creating a consistent pattern and journey of activity between now and May 31st with a type of activity people can connect and have fun with,” said Rogers.

The types of “marathons” include:

  • Getting Started with Activity
  • Strength Training at Home
  • Active Children & Families
  • Outdoor Activity
  • Revive and Restore
  • Intensity at Home

Visit the Be Fit Pitt website to learn more about how to follow the 26-day activity marathon, and find ways to keep moving with livestreaming videos, online workouts and home resources. Rogers encourages people to register ahead for their workouts to keep their Marathon May streak going.

Pitt staff, faculty and students can subscribe to daily email or text prompts with Be Fit Pitt. To enroll:

  • Log in to
  • Choose “Profile” (top right corner).
  • Choose “Pitt Text Messaging Updates”
  • Go to “Opt-In” Tab
  • Choose “Be Fit Pitt”

I’m an activity expert, and I am concerned how this reduction in physical activity may impact our overall health and well-being.

Some of the drop in physical activity is due to temporary fitness center closings and stay-at-home guidelines. However, even people who don’t typically work out may have a reduction in activity because they are walking less to do everyday tasks and spending more time in front of a computer. These decreases in activity may add to the health concerns resulting from COVID-19.

Because of this, my colleagues and I want to use our expertise in physical activity promotion and obesity treatment and prevention to help individuals cope with the challenges resulting from this global pandemic.

It’s important to move

Prior to the pandemic, there had been concern about weight gain and the high prevalence of obesity in the United States and on a global scale.

This is important because obesity has recently been identified as a risk factor for COVID-19 complications. Evidence has also shown that disruption in regular exercise can lead to increases in depressive symptoms.

For an individual who is not a regular exerciser, adding periods of activity throughout the day may have mood enhancing effects. Short activity breaks throughout the workday can enhance emotional well-being.

Possibly most important is that physical activity can enhance immune function. This immune system boost may even occur in older people who are especially at risk for dying from COVID-19.

The argument is there to exercise more, but the reality is that many people are now doing less.

Activity over exercise

By definition, exercise is structured and planned.

The lack of planning and structure in our lives during this period of social distancing is likely contributing to the overall reduction in our activity levels.

Many people have been taught that exercise has to be intense and done for extended periods of time to make a difference, but U.S. government guidelines now suggest otherwise.

Light activity breaks, that get the body moving without major increases in intensity, are often overlooked but helpful for breaking up sedentary time.

On the higher end of the spectrum is moderate to vigorous activity, which aligns more closely to what people classically consider to be exercise. Good news for us is that new evidence suggests that doing this type of activity in shorter bouts may provide the same benefits as long periods.

Building an active lifestyle at home

My team works every day to translate research into practice, so we have a strong track record of getting people to be active at home by starting at a low level and ramping up activity over time.

To start, take screen-time activity breaks, or a 5- to 10-minute brisk walk while social distancing. It all adds up. Consider letting go of “all-or-nothing” exercise thinking.The Conversation