Negative self-talk and self-doubt set in when I start to miss my workouts. With all that has changed and how my routine has been interrupted, it has been imperative to find exercise alternatives to keep my mania and depression at bay.
Many months into our global health crisis, I’m surprised to find myself not constantly fighting off depression or getting lost in mania—especially after being laid off. This is a big difference from what happened during the 2008 Great Recession, which taught me that unemployment is my nemesis. This time around, though, I am managing my bipolar symptoms just fine—for two main reasons:
I can go one day without exercise. Two days off, and I start feeling unsure about things. Past that, my self-doubt and negative self-talk escalate, and incessant indecision becomes an enormous obstacle to daily living: Should I clean the garage or go grocery shopping first? Should I wear red sandals or beige flats?
To avoid these symptoms, five times a week is my magic number—and I need to exercise hard enough to break a sweat. My workouts are, on average, 50 minutes long, and two days involve resistance training. (Of course, not everybody will need the same amount or types of exercise as I do—this is just what works for me, to stay on top of my moods.)
It’s been a challenge, of course, having to improvise. But it has also been fun to find creative, new ways to work out during these trying times.
Gym Shutdown & Finding Alternatives
Surprisingly, I really don’t enjoy working out at a gym. But, once I had children and took on a lengthy commute, it became difficult to regularly play recreational sports, such as tennis, volleyball, and soccer. So, to the gym I went.
When my gym shut down in March 2020, I knew I would miss it, but I didn’t realize how much. As a Cal State Long Beach alumna, I was able to become a member of their Wellness Center, which features a rock-climbing wall, an indoor track, an outdoor pool and volleyball court, a free-weight area, several types of machines, a basketball court, multiple rooms for exercise classes, and more. Within the sizeable, two-story building, many large windows overlook the campus and let in lots of natural light. Biking the mile and a half there and back served as my warm-up and cool-down.
Although I find swimming boring, I made myself swim there once a week, because emerging from their outdoor heated pool made me feel as if I had just received a massage without having to plop down $85.
Sweat Room a.k.a. Living Room
My living room isn’t furnished with exercise machines or a rack of free weights, but I do have some dumbbells and an exercise mat. So, to keep myself moving, I put to use all that I learned from small-group personal-training classes, including over a dozen exercises that use my body to provide resistance. I cross the living room on a diagonal while doing exercises, such as inchworms, crab walks, bear walks, and lunges. Some of the exercises are stationary, such as planks.
My living room repertoire includes working out to one of the high-intensity workouts I have in a set of 11 DVDs. The 30-minute routines vary between cardio and resistance workouts and include warm-ups and post-exercise stretches.
Other options could include following online instructional videos (I tried a few free YouTube workout videos, but they didn’t move quickly enough for me). Also, I see others working out in the nearby park using routines on mobile apps, resistance bands strung from tree limbs, and benches for climbing up and down.
Jogging with Our Dog, Charlie
Four years ago, my daughter finally won me over, and we adopted Charlie, a one-year-old Tibetan Spaniel. Before Charlie, I only jogged in a pinch, because I found it boring and I worried about injuries. It’s a completely different experience jogging with Charlie by my side. He and I jog together twice a week early in the morning.
Biking to Run Errands
Since the spring, I have been biking more often to run errands. The average length of my round-trip rides is four miles, which is not quite a workout (for me). Long Beach has bike paths, and I feel safe, but I don’t go for longer rides to achieve a workout, because it’s not relaxing being on high alert, watching out for cars, and navigating major intersections.
A 10-mile round trip on a bike trail would be relaxing and help me break a sweat, but I haven’t taken the time to figure out how to find the hidden trails yet.
Interval Training with a Jump Rope
Want a lifetime supply of antidepressants? Buy a jump rope. I’m joking, of course! But I can’t think of a cheaper, more adaptable exercise that you can take anywhere.
I used to jump rope in the parking lot while my son’s baseball team warmed up before their game. Now I jump rope in the backyard.
I also use my jump rope for interval training. With my phone as my timer, I jump as fast as I can for three minutes, and then I take a one-minute break. When I trip on the rope during my jumping sessions, I switch the way that I’m jumping. If I need a resistance session, I alternate the jumping-rope sessions with resistance exercises, three minutes on and one minute off.
Unlike jogging, jumping rope is considered a low-impact exercise because your feet never travel far from the ground. Because it is high intensity, you can get an impressive cardio workout within half an hour.
Once you learn how to handle kettlebells properly, you can use them to do a variety of resistance exercises. Because of their range of motion, they also tone your muscles; and, if you work out at a brisk pace, you achieve a cardio workout as well. However, my two kettlebells disappeared from the mini-gym of my former workplace. I miss them, but I can’t justify spending a hundred dollars to replace them right now, because I have alternative ways to work out.
Adapting to Manage My Moods
Given all that has changed in our lives and how my routine has been interrupted, I never could have imagined being able to work out in such a limited capacity for so long.
The payoff—easing my bipolar depression—makes it worth it, though.
This is what I have found most helpful so far. What are you doing to become fit or maintain your exercise regime—whether you are just getting started or have had to adapt like me?
Sasha Kildare, a feature writer, speaker, and educator, is also the author of the upcoming memoir and information guide Intact: Untangle the Web of Bipolar Depression, Addiction, and Trauma. Her blogs about storytelling can be found at DrivenToTellStories.com, and you can find her on Twitter @sashakildare and Instagram @sashakildare562.
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