Feeling squirrely? 12 ways to stay active when you’re quarantined

Squirrel on a fence post

“If it be now, ’tis not to come. If it be not to come, it will be now. If it be not now, yet it will come—the readiness is all.”

It’s as if Hamlet foresaw our world today.

We wait behind our closed doors, waiting for the invisible coronavirus to pass over us, praying like the Israelites it will spare our families, friends, neighbors, ourselves. While we ready ourselves for the virus with soap and sprays and masks and gloves, we must take care of our mental and physical health, as well. Staying in a virtual bunker for weeks on end is not easy on the human psyche.

Our ideas for passing the time range from ways to support our communities, to resources for continuing your workouts in your living room, to activities that can feed the body and soothe the soul.

  1. Feed hungry healthcare workers, support local restaurants

You can help doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers working through the coronavirus outbreak by providing them with healthy meals. With the exponential increase in patients, hospital employees are working 12-hour days, often without time for a quick trip to the cafeteria.

At the same time, restaurants have been forced to close, either by government order or a sharp drop off in customers.

In a two-birds-with-one-stone opportunity, you can provide frontline healthcare workers with meals from local restaurants, helping keep the restaurants afloat during this difficult time. Hospital regulations will vary slightly, but generally they can only accept individually wrapped meals prepared in a professional, licensed kitchen. In some cases, the restaurants will deliver the food, in others volunteers pick up from the restaurants and take the meals to hospitals.

In New Jersey, one woman organized the Front Line Appreciation Group (FLAG) to provide frontline healthcare workers with food from local restaurants. As of Monday, March 30, FLAG raised more than $82,100 and paid $16,200 to local restaurants that have delivered almost 2,400 individually wrapped meals to area hospitals. Contributions go to her Venmo account.

Other similar efforts are beginning around the country. In Pittsburgh, a mother of three and Google executive launched a crowdfunding drive on and invited people to donate to buy meals for groups of 20 to 30 from local restaurants. In only three days she raised $5,000.  Her group is currently supporting 15 facilities in the Pittsburgh area with meals from local restaurants and chains like Panera.

As the number of people who are infected increases, the need for efforts like this will grow. And what a good way to support your local businesses. If you are interested in starting a similar project in your area, contact the hospital administrators first, then set up your funding account. The Chamber of Commerce or your town municipal office can help you identify restaurants to participate.

  1. Deep clean your house

Do you miss your trip to the gym? Good news—housecleaning is a great way to exercise and burn calories while you’re sequestered at home. Not just cleaning, but deep cleaning, room by room, scrubbing, wiping, washing. Clearing the clutter also has mental health benefits. In addition to the endorphins released while cleaning, reducing clutter can reduce stress and depression, decrease levels of cortisol in the body, and improve focus and concentration.

Some house cleaning activities can also be a form of meditation. A 2014 study showed that “mindful” dishwashing results in a more positive outlook and reduced levels of anxiety. has an activity calculator that will help you track your caloric output, considering gender, age, weight, and intensity of activity. For example, a 65-year old woman weighing 150 pounds burns 153 calories after 30 minutes of mopping the floor. Twenty minutes of scrubbing burns 84 calories. Put a few of those activities together in a few hours of vigorous cleaning and you’ll burn more than 560 calories.

The same woman taking a one-hour Zumba class will burn 540 calories. And her floors will still be grungy.

App tracks calories spent housecleaning
Calories burned by a 5’6” 65-year old woman performing two hours of housework.  Read more: #HealthStatus

This Old House, Real Simple, and have room-by-room checklists and instructions for how to clean everything from mattresses to coffee pots. Use their resources to create your own plan.

  1. Clean out your email box

Cleaning your email inbox, and emptying the trash, can have many of the mental health benefits of physical house cleaning. All of those newsletters, special offers, and emails from friends with a humorous attachment…you thought you’d “get back to them,” yet weeks and months and years have passed and they’re still there.

It’s time to lighten the load.

One way is a wholesale delete of the oldest emails. You might keep the last 12 months for now in case there are documents needed for business and tax reasons. After that, use your provider’s sort function to group mail by sender, then delete entire categories or pick through to save those you think you need.

If you would like some direction, or an excuse to procrastinate, this video from the Wall Street Journal will walk you through the process.

  1. Exercise

Staying inside 24/7 can make you a bit squirrelly. If you can, get some fresh air by walking for 20 minutes outside, keeping a 6-foot distance between others and yourself. If you have a dog you have a built-in walking program. Cat fanciers will need to develop a new routine.  Cycling is even better but check your local social distancing orders first.

If you miss your class at the gym there are a growing number of streaming workout programs on YouTube, Roku and other platforms. Parade Magazine lists 125 different free online workouts, from cardio to yoga to HIIT to Zumba. The Fit at Any Age program on the Roku channel has a variety of fitness programs for seniors that include stretching, Pilates, yoga, and Tai Chi.

  1. Plant a garden

More of us are making meals from our pantry items: pasta, beans, canned tuna, some staples from the freezer. But salad. O glorious salad—will we ever see you again? We may be sheltering in place in some form or other for months, and with drastically reduced trips to the supermarket, fresh vegetables are more difficult to keep in stock.

Container gardening is an easy way to grow vegetables, whether you have a small garden, patio, balcony, or rooftop. Lettuce and spinach are perhaps the simplest vegetables to grow in containers. They will take a week or more to sprout, but then will quickly reach a harvest size of three to four inches. Tomatoes take more work to grow in containers, but there are varieties designed for pots that grow to a certain size, then stop and bear fruit in a few weeks.

The Old Farmer’s Almanac, Home Depot, and the Burpee seed company have instructions and resources to get you on your way—at a distance.

  1. Reach out and (virtually) touch someone

Reach out to friends you haven’t spoken with in a while, even years. Especially those who are also under house arrest in self-isolation.

Technology can be your best friend here. You can “go to the movies” with remote family and friends with Netflix Party—no additional cost if you have a Netflix subscription. Once you’ve installed Netflix Party you can set a time for your movie “party”; the film or program will start at the same time on everybody’s screens, and you can “chat” with them online.

Or hold a (virtual) dinner party, cocktail hour, book club, or just a chat on Zoom, an online platform for holding video meetings, events—and mahjongg parties. It’s easy to use. Zoom is similar to Skype and Google Hangouts, but it has exploded in popularity since COVID19 has driven everyone indoors. Kat Tenbarge shares her experience organizing a Zoom party on  Business Insider and includes plenty of tips.

  1. Bake like Mary Berry

Sometimes there’s nothing like something from the oven to provide an oasis of calm in a storm. Baking takes concentration and precision, measuring, kneading, a meditation with your hands. Take inspiration from Mary Berry, who wowed viewers of The Great British Bakeoff with masterpieces like Swedish Princesstårta and more simple fare like hot cross buns. Then there’s banana bread, the ultimate recipe for quarantine baking. In fact, Google Trends shows that searches for banana bread recipes have soared worldwide in the past 30 days.

  1. Knit while you binge watch

Roll some beautiful yarn and knit a stylish cropped cardigan for yourself, or a silly hat for your dog. There is a community of knitters out there, and many share patterns and tips on Ravelry, “a place for knitters, crocheters, designers, spinners, weavers and dyers to keep track of their yarn, tools, project and pattern information, and look to others for ideas and inspiration.”

Knitting has health benefits, too. It can enhance cognitive function by promoting the development of neural pathways, is a great workout for the fingers, hands and forearms, and can elevate your mood.

Ravelry can point you to your local yarn stores for supplies. While they may be closed because of the COVID19 outbreak, many are taking phone orders and shipping locally.

  1. Laugh a little

It’s no joke. Laughing is good for your health. According to the Mayo Clinic, laughter boosts your intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles, tempers your stress response, and can improve your immune system (by releasing neuropeptides that help fight stress and potentially more serious illnesses).

So laugh a little. Or a lot. One of our favorite comedians is Michael McIntyre, a British comedy star whose dissection of everyday events has us rolling on the floor. (In 2012, he was the highest-grossing stand-up comedian in the world.) You can find clips of his performances short and long on YouTube. Watch as he describes meeting the Queen, shopping with his wife, and what life with children is really like (“People without children have NO IDEA…”).

  1. Take an online course

Coursera is a leading online learning platform for higher education. More than 4,000 courses are offered from 200 world-class universities and companies, including: Yale, University of Pennsylvania, Google, IBM, and more.

In response to the COVID-19 crisis Coursera created a central resource with free courses, topical collections, community discussions, and relevant expert interviews. You will find courses in Greek history, classical music, modern art, language, health, math—something for everyone. Sign up for Learning How to Learn and receive a cheery greeting in your email every Friday.

  1. Learn a new language

Learning a new language is good for your brain (because language learning engages an extensive brain network that is known to overlap with the regions negatively affected by the aging process). And you don’t have to leave home to learn one. Forbes recently reviewed “5 of the Best Online Language Learning Courses,” most of which offer free trial periods. That might be long enough to get through your quarantine.

  1. Medical proxy, DNR, last will and testament

Do you have a Last Will and Testament? What about a Living Will? If you have been putting off “getting your affairs in order” you might want to do it now—before your doctor utters those words.

A last will and testament is a legal document that lets you, the testator (the person making the will), designate individuals or charities to receive your property and possessions when you pass away. The main purpose of a will is to ensure that your wishes, and not the default laws of the state, will be followed upon your unfortunate demise.

A living will, also called an advance directive, provides instructions regarding end-of-life care. Living wills allow you to make your own choices about life support and help prevent confusion about the type of care you do or do not want if you become incapable of communicating your wishes. Without a living will, the laws in your state will determine who will make your health care decisions. It can include a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order.

You may want to consult an attorney or use a service like LegalZoom, which provides an inexpensive alternative.

The best way you can slow the spread and help overworked healthcare workers is to #stayhome.

Squirrel photo at top: Pixabay


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