COVID-19 SPECIAL

Living Well: Sticking with exercise and celebrating the small victories

SINGAPORE - About two weeks before Singapore was due to lift its circuit breaker, I was suddenly seized with regret.

Two life-changing, history-making months were about to whizz by and I had little to show for it.

Like most people, I'd taken the chance to reflect and recalibrate as Covid-19 upended lives and forced a radical reset worldwide.

Work still kept me busy and I had much to be thankful for. But with nowhere to go and no one to meet, I couldn't help thinking I should be more productive and purposeful with this unexpected gift of downtime.

I'd told my kids the same thing and they actually heeded my advice to pick up a new skill or hobby when school let out early in May.

For over a month now, my 10-year-old daughter has been faithfully keeping up with her Spanish lessons on Duolingo.

Meanwhile, her older brother has been trying to bake or cook something almost every weekend, even if the results aren't always edible.

But the only new thing I'd done up till mid-May was to finally subscribe to Netflix.

Finding meaning, purpose and areas of personal growth during the pandemic has helped many to cope with the anxiety, uncertainty or sheer ennui.

"Quarantine goals" is apparently a thing, and people around the world have been cooking, crafting, cosplaying and Marie Kondo-ing their way through enforced isolation.

Then there were those who took lockdown challenges to a whole new level.

 

A Chinese man in Hangzhou ran laps around his living room that totalled 50km in February.

A guy in France completed a marathon on his 7m-long balcony a month later.

Then in April, a paralysed ex-rugby player from Britain climbed the equivalent height of Mount Everest on the staircase of his parents' home over four days and raised more than £41,000 (S$72,390) for charity.

Domestic and athletic feats aside, there have also been touching accounts of selfless acts by Good Samaritans who stepped up to donate food, sew masks, deliver supplies or bring hope and help in myriad ways.

Consumed by purpose anxiety, I thought: Even if I can't do much good in these bleak times, I should at least develop one good habit.

So when my kids settled down to watch TV one night, I decided to attempt something constructive at the same time: I worked out next to them, to a short YouTube video by British personal trainer Lucy Wyndham-Read.

Exercising has become one of those cliched quarantine activities, along with baking and decluttering. But how, I've always wondered, can people actually enjoy something so excruciating?

The last time I made it a point to move my flabby butt at least three times a week was four years ago. I started working out with a personal trainer after a health scare in 2013 and later signed up for tennis lessons and a Pilates class with friends.

But as the costs added up and my will atrophied, I threw in the towel.

 
 
 

Since then, many valiant attempts to revive my exercise routine have sputtered and died.

I can recall only a few bouts of serious physical exertion last year, including panting my way through the shortest distances of the ST Run and Terry Fox Run.

I last sweated buckets in early March, when my husband signed the family up for a run-bike event, which I was woefully unprepared for.

So it was no surprise that I was winded even before the end of Wyndham-Read's seven-minute workout.

But the TV helped distract me from the pain, and I ended up stringing together a few more quick routines for a session that lasted more than 30 minutes.

It was more manageable than I expected, so I did the same the next night. And the next.

As I'm writing this, I've worked out for 21 days straight, mixing endurance, strength and mobility exercises.

Three full weeks of mindfully, deliberately breaking a sweat for at least 30 minutes. Every. Single. Day.

I know. Many of you are probably rolling your eyes. It's like bragging about brushing my teeth every day.

But it is a personal record. This is the first time in my adult life I've been physically active for more than five days in a row. More incredibly, I'm looking forward to clocking more.

Wyndham-Read got me off to a good start by enticing me to build up a workout plan through small steps. Her videos promise results if you stick to the various short workouts for seven days.

Each time I completed seven minutes, I decided I could manage another seven, then another.

And after seven days, I thought I might as well stick with it for 10.

I didn't actually believe I would be rid of my muffin top or bat-wing arms in a week and I wasn't. But by then, I was too thrilled with my new fitness regimen to care.

 
 
 

When boredom set in after the 10th day, I tapped on the free Nike Training Club (NTC) mobile app for its wide range of workouts.

It customises exercise plans based on your fitness level and preferences, such as the number of sessions a week and whether you want to add runs or equipment like weights.

I've lost count of the number of times I've aborted an NTC plan within a week. But I'm now on Week 2 of a four-week plan and think I might actually complete it for the first time.

The varied exercises are a welcome change to the tedium of the sequestered life, where the days seem to blur together.

Covid-19 has stripped away all my usual excuses for not exercising - too busy; too tired; too crowded - and gives new impetus for me to stay healthy.

It will take months, maybe years, before I can run 5km without stopping, and I might never acquire cobbled abs. But that's fine.

After weathering such an unprecedented crisis, we should all learn to find joy in little triumphs and not sweat the small stuff.