• Anthony W. Barker

Exercise: Strategies, Considerations, and Precautions during COVID-19

Updated: May 5

Writer's Note: This is the first episode in our series of Yielding to the Paradigm Shift where exercise is addressed interdependently with other facets of wellness.

A societal paradigm shift with our new normal is emerging, and before it's fully formed, we know health and wellness, with its related fields, must shift its focus.

Re-marketing exercise as medication serves the sober tone of the times. Usually marketed as merely a fun idea, exercise must be re-framed for exactly what it is: a responsible service to ourselves, our families, and the greater community.

While the visual in the add to the right doesn't look like too much fun, exercise can be fun when you're healthy. I doctored the add to balance the fun notion with the reality that exercise is actually dreadful to some who're recovering from serious injuries, have chronic pain, are morbidly obese, or struggle with depression.


Why all the resistance to free medication?

Those requiring medication to stay alive are usually diligent to take it, and if that same patient is sedentary, responsible physicians prescribe exercise as well. If that patient chooses to dismiss their physician's advice, loved ones may sigh with irritation at their"irresponsible","selfish" or "lazy" loved one.

Here's a helpful tip for those with an unmotivated loved one: Don't do that.

That's step one. Step two is realizing that the silence of unspoken attitudes is deafening and discouraging. When we communicate resignation through our silence and facial affect, it only reinforces your loved one's disappointment in themselves.

That friend or family member with a serious health issue may be depressed and/or simply unaware of the dramatic benefits exercise would have on their well-being. Or, it may be an issue so subtle, its malignancy proves fatal without ever reaching a clinical diagnosis. [We'll unpack that in the next post.] With all the attention focused on this pandemic, those who downplayed their physician's advice will hopefully begin warming to the idea that exercise may be worth the effort:

I've known many who, overweight when they were young, responded aggressively to the message to make up for lost time. They became strong proponents of fitness and turned their lives around dramatically. However, their aggressive turnaround commonly introduced a counterintutive behavior:


Irresponsible marketing ploys

or an adage like No Pain-No Gain, may appeal to those with a competitive spirit, but without qualifiers, it's toxic. A balance must be struck between discomfort and 'pain'. Rehabilitation from an injury is painful, but under the care of a physical therapist, the 'pain' is monitored and modulated through their expertise. Through this painful process of rehabilitation, the gain is realized in the patient's recovered joint mobility. Without trying to be dramatic, at this point in history, I sense broad-brushing 'Pain' or lauding intensive forms of exercise as some optimum and exclusive level of fitness is not only exploitative, it's worse. I posit, that in light of what we know as scientific fact, this brand of advertising is akin to pushing prescription drugs on the street. If you are intent on embracing this competitive/warrior approach to exercise without knowledge (as I did 40 years prior), please challenge my position. To do so, research the following key words and phrases in relation to exercise apart from the links I've included: inflammatory markers, cytokines, overtraining syndrome, leukocytosis. To put it simply, we're merely comparing the effects of intense exercise compared to moderate. Moderate wins.

Consideration, Caution, and the Prudent Approach

A possible deeper and very common issue that works to hijack the medicinal effects of exercise...

NO Prudence-NO GAIN doesn't evoke that pumped drive we expect from a motivational meme and there's nothing sexy or compelling about it.

But, prudence, though not all that attractive or marketable, does appeal to a thoughtful and deliberate approach fueled by knowledge, motivated by self-discipline, and validated with results.

Since too much of a good thing is true of exercise, learning your appropriate volume and intensity is crucial.

Habitually overshooting our appropriate training zone does more than weaken immunity, it can become a direct cause of serious illnesses.

Your individual training and dietary ‘zone’ is critical information, and so is your diet. Being calorie deficient when you're active makes you more at risk for injury. As we'd all love to simplify things -which I will - nutrition must never be separated from a discussion about exercise and immunity - never.

Precautionary Consideration

Before the current health crisis, the pathogens circulating here in the U.S. weren't as virulent. So, those who were weakening their immunity by over-training (and poor nutrition) experienced lethargy, irritability, sore throats, mononucleosis, and worse. That's changed, it's now much worse.

These new pathogens, along with their mutating cousins, introduce more serious consequences for those who actively lower their immunity with the very activity intended to boost it. This is one of the most glaring contradictions of the "fitness" world, which is why I'm beating the topic to death.

Is exercising beyond your zone truly as much of a health concern as being overweight?

Rudimentary Example: If we compare a 25 year old healthy male, who is 40 lbs. over his ideal muscle to fat ratio to his identical twin brother fitness enthusiast who exceeds his exercise volume and intensity sweet spot 3 times per week...

Which brother is more at-risk?

To answer this question with clinical accuracy, more variables are necessary, but we can reasonably and accurately state they're both more at-risk for different reasons: The fit twin operates on the notion his activity level, low body fat, excellent diet, and adequate sleep guarantee him a higher immunity than his brother. He's deceived. The fit twin could easily be more at-risk.

This is not an attempt to scare exercise enthusiasts into being less enthusiastic, but to bridle and redirect their enthusiasm toward being more informed.  




Mental Health Sidebar

Eating and exercise are two necessary and enjoyable health sustaining activities. If either are driven by compulsion to excess at the expense of our health, we may need to exercise these deeper issues with a mental health professional. Medicating toxic feelings with healthy behaviors abuses their limited role in the larger picture of wellness. It's akin to using a hammer to fix your cell phone. Let's unpack that...

Strategy to Work Out the Tendency to Over-exercise

The Greek word for exercise, gumnazo, sometimes translated 'work out' or 'train' is the root for gymnasium, gymnastics. It literally means, to practice naked.

While that's not a gym I'd be motivated to join, the theme of the translated Greek is one of taking what's inside and bringing it out. The phrase talk it out implies we take our hidden toxic feelings and thoughts and exercise them, not to strengthen, but to work them out with a professional. Bringing what's toxic out renders it inert to the mind and the body.

Physical exercise proves cathartic, as perspiration works to release toxins and raise dopamine levels which in turn, strengthen our ability to expose and reject negative thoughts.


Viewing exercise in relation to the current health crisis and the shifting paradigm, as necessary instead of optional makes it truly a matter of life and death for many. Understanding our own personal limitations as they relate to caution and excess, and the mental health factors which can tip the scales for us in either direction is critical for the process to become a completely healthy endeavor.

Addendum: Exercise in Compassion

Fear or shame-based thinking that robs our motivation for self-care must be treated as the enemy. Our challenge is to confront this enemy in our thinking first, then with a clearer eye, we're better equipped to encourage others. Regardless of how gentle or convincing we are in our delivery, our loved ones will respond in their own time, or they may not. It's beyond our control, but not beyond our influence.

The next segment will focus on our responsibility (from a public health perspective) to encourage those in our sphere of influence to BEGIN taking their medication...