Social Isolation and Physical Training in COVID-19 Confinement

No matter where you are in the world, there’s a good chance you’re in the midst of some social isolation measure in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. And if you’re reading this article, there’s also a good chance that you like to engage in regular physical activity. Unfortunately, the former circumstances are less than conducive to the latter actions. Social isolation measures have limited access to gyms, parks, trails and athletic facilities. For some people, this isolation and restricted physical activity are the hardest parts of the pandemic response. But as the following examples demonstrate, all it takes is a committed attitude and a little imagination to maintain your physical training and mental health during these trying times.

Social Isolation Like an Astronaut

If you ever dreamed of undertaking a mission to space, then now is the time to prepare. Rachel Zimmerman-Brachman, a public engagement specialist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and an aspiring astronaut, says COVID-19 confinement is comparable to astronaut training. In a March Facebook post, she wrote:

“Attitude is everything: I’m on an adventure in a confined space with a small crew for a long duration mission, with occasional space walks and resupply missions. Sounds like astronaut training to me.”

An astronaut exercises in social isolation
Astronaut Luca Parmitano exercises aboard the International Space Station (

Zimmerman-Brachman was inspired by friends who had lived in simulated Martian habitats and participated in other long-term isolation research.

“Life is a combination of what happens to you and what you do about it,” she said. “We’re going to be at home for a while, so we may as well make the best of it.”

Use Your Imagination

In baseball, Los Angeles Angels manager Joe Maddon also chose to look at the brighter side of confinement.

“This is when you really have to utilize your imagination,” Maddon told reporters. “There are so many lessons to be learned right now, so many positives that can be derived from this awful moment.”

Milwaukee Brewers manager Craig Counsell echoed Maddon’s sentiments, saying, “It puts you in a different routine. You’ve got to try to enjoy that and find some different things to do to make it a productive day.”

In reporting on Maddon and Counsell’s approach, Chicago Tribune sportswriter Paul Sullivan shared one of his favorite activities for passing the time: connecting any two baseball players in history through their shared teammates. He spent thirty minutes linking the biggest names from the two most prominent baseball cheating scandals: “Shoeless” Joe Jackson of the 1919 “Black Sox” (Chicago White Sox) and Carlos Beltran of the 2017 Houston Astros.

“Naturally you’re bored after spending all this time at home,” Sullivan writes. “But now it’s mandatory [at least in Illinois], so just make the best of it.”

The Shortest Marathon

In Balma, France, runner Elisha Nochomovitz completed a marathon (26.2 miles) by running back and forth on his 23-foot-wide balcony. It took him six hours and forty-eight minutes to finish his limited course.

Nochomovitz shared his effort online to “extend my support to the entire medical personnel who are doing an exceptional job.”

While he ran, his girlfriend served as his one-woman pit crew, giving him drinks and M&Ms. He did suffer from bouts of nausea, and his neighbors, though initially confused, were very understanding.

Nochomovitz had been training for a marathon and ran this course to reassure himself that he could cover the distance under any conditions. But he also wanted to respect the social isolation demands of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“If everyone thinks the same way and does the same thing, we’ll all find ourselves outside and that won’t help anything, and the message that we need to stay confined at home will have had no impact,” Nochomovitz said.

He added, “It was about launching a bit of a crazy challenge and bringing a bit of humor, to de-dramatize the confinement situation.”

And My Personal Favorite

Not to be outdone, this Italian triathlete shared a video of himself swimming, biking and running in the hallway of his home.

Maybe this one isn’t an example of serious physical training. But it is another worthwhile lesson: find new ways to amuse yourself and those around you. We could all use a good laugh right now.

In this new and unprecedented reality, we all face significant challenges to our health, livelihood and way of life. Social isolation, while necessary to check the spread of COVID-19, presents its own obstacles, especially to those who are accustomed to regular physical activity. While you can’t train always train the way you used to, you can use this time to maintain your physical health and develop new skills that will continue to benefit you in a post-pandemic world.

Stay safe and be well.

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