Exercising during the pandemic

March 19, 2020 by Lisa Bywaters0

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Didn’t think we’d ever be writing those words!

Update – 23 March 2020 – From midday today, all indoor sporting venues and gyms across Australia will be closed until further notice. 

The government has just announced a ban on non-essential indoor gatherings of 100 of more people.

So what does that mean if you live with a musculoskeletal condition like arthritis, back pain or osteoporosis?

Well, it depends. One area you may feel the impact immediately is your exercise program. Exercise and being active is vital for all of us living with musculoskeletal conditions. It helps us manage our condition, our pain, our weight, and our mental health. It also helps us sleep better and gives us the opportunity to socialise with others.

However if you take part in classes or attend an indoor exercise centre or gym (that holds more than 100 people), you won’t be able to attend. This may be frustrating, but it’s one of the measures we need to have in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and protect the most vulnerable in our community. Many of whom have a musculoskeletal condition.

Some gyms and exercise centres have already closed, with the City of Sydney closing all its gyms and aquatic centres.

If you exercise in a smaller space (less than 100 people), that should be ok at the moment. Although it’s worth noting that there’s still the potential for people to contract COVID-19 at these venues.

Given that many people with musculoskeletal conditions do exercise in smaller spaces, including warm water exercise, tai chi and chair based exercises, we’ve pulled together the current information so that you can make an informed choice about where and how you exercise.

First and foremost – you need to stay home if you’re unwell. If you have any reason to believe you’ve been infected with COVID-19, call your doctor. Call them first – don’t go to the clinic if you suspect you have the virus. Call and let them know your symptom and travel history.

Warm water exercise classes

Based on current medical information there’s no evidence that COVID-19 can be spread through pool water, provided that it’s adequately chlorinated. However if you attend warm water exercise classes, the biggest risk for contracting COVID-19 is mixing with other people who may have the virus, particularly in a wet environment, which is ideal for passing on infections of all kinds. At this time we would recommend that you avoid warm water exercise classes and seek alternative ways to keep active. See our list below for more information.

Chair based exercise classes

These classes are great for people with mobility and balance issues, just make sure you’re spaced at least 1.5m from others, and all surfaces are cleaned and disinfected before and after class. Ensure that you practise good hygiene as outlined by the Department of Health such as washing hands with soapy water and covering your cough or sneeze with your elbow or tissue. Also remember to practice social distancing at all times.

Tai chi

Tai chi is a great exercise for people with musculoskeletal conditions. It’s gentle, helps improve balance, and it can be very relaxing. Also social distancing is already inbuilt in tai chi classes as participants generally need greater than 1.5m between people to do the movements. Again remember to practise good general hygiene as outlined by the Department of Health as well as practicing social distancing before and after class.

Gyms and fitness centres

These places are often humid and sweaty, with surfaces touched by many people. It can be an ideal place for the spread of germs. If you do go to a gym, they should have already put in place measures to keep people as safe as possible including: communicating with all members and visitors about both your responsibility in relation to hygiene and social distancing as well as their responsibility to you. Hopefully they have reduced class sizes and made sure there’s plenty of space between members and between equipment. You should also notice that cleaning and hygiene measures have been stepped up. If your gym hasn’t done this you should seriously reconsider attending.

Alternative ways to exercise

You may decide that at this stage, the risks of exercising indoor in public spaces are just too great for you. That’s absolutely fine, and totally your choice. We’re all dealing with the pandemic in our own way. But exercise and keeping active is important. So here are some other ways you can exercise during the pandemic:

  • Getting outside and going for a walk, jog or run is still a great way to stay active. If you’re doing it with a friend or a group, maintain space between each person. You may have to speak more loudly  but the space between you helps prevent the spread of the virus if it’s present, but not yet detected. And don’t forget – COVID-19 doesn’t spread to our pets, so take your dog for a walk. They’ll love it! And avoid walking, jogging or running in busy areas, or during busy times.
  • Use an old fashioned DVD and exercise in front of your TV. Or stream an exercise program online. Or use an exercise app. There are so many to choose from. Just make sure that the exercises are performed by people who know what they’re doing.
  • Dance around the house. Get the blood pumping with some of your favourite, high energy music, and shake it off!
  • Walk/run around your home and yard. At the beginning of the Chinese lockdown there was news of a man who ran a marathon in his own apartment.
  • If you have a WII Fit, or any of the electronic karaoke/guitar/music games that plug into your TV, set it up and go for it. Sing and dance to your hearts content. If you don’t have any of the electronics, just do some air guitar or air drumming. We’ve all done it, and it’s so much fun.
  • Get creative! One of our families has told us about how they’re blowing up balloons and using them as balls. For example, keeping them off the ground while they sit on opposite sides of the table, hitting balloons with fly swats and other improvised rackets for a game of tennis. We can be very creative when we need to be – let your inner exercise guru loose!
  • Use what you have around the house. You may already have exercise balls/bands and weights to use, or you can improvise with cans of soup for weights, steps ups on your stairs etc.
  • Incorporate incidental exercise. Check out our blog on how the little bits and pieces you do over the course of your day – for example cleaning, talking on the phone – can be made more active and really add up.
  • Go for a ride. Use an indoor stationary bike, or hit the streets or park on your bicycle.

There are lots of things you can do to remain active during this pandemic, and stay safe. These are just some of them. For more information, visit our website or call our MSK Help line weekdays on 1800 263 265. Or email helpline@msk.org.au.

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Musculoskeletal Australia (or MSK) is the consumer organisation working with, and advocating on behalf of, people with arthritis, osteoporosis, back pain, gout and over 150 other musculoskeletal conditions.

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