Exercise in the age of coronavirus: Ottawans find ways to keep moving


With gyms, fitness studios, swimming pools and arenas all closed, Ottawa residents are finding other ways to keep moving, from taking exercise classes online to heading outside for a walk.

Public health authorities are pleading with us to stay home as much as possible and keep our distance from others to prevent the spread of COVID-19. But exercise is still important, and maybe even more so. Tension can be running high among people cooped up at home.

Physical activity helps, says Vera Etches, Ottawa’s chief medical officer of health. “What ideas do you have for in-home or outdoor-2-metre apart activities?” she tweeted. “I just went for my first run of the season.”

It’s still safe — and recommended — to get outside for a walk or run. Just keep two metres away from other people.

Walking, running and biking are simple and one of the few options available when people can no longer head to the gym, take a yoga class or participate in organized sports.

On March 17, the province declared a state of emergency, temporarily closing all indoor recreational facilities. Ottawa had already closed city pools, arenas and community centres. Public health authorities have asked everyone to avoid gatherings of all kinds.

Phil Marsh, the regional manager for the Running Room stores, predicts COVID-19 may spawn a new running boom. In the last week, he said Ottawa stores have seen an influx of customers buying running shoes. Some said that since their usual exercise routines are disrupted they have decided to go “old school” and start running.

The Running Room decided Thursday to close its stores temporarily because of the threat of COVID-19. Online sales are still available, he said.

Marsh said he knows of some groups of running friends who have continued, but all spaced 20 feet apart from each other.

Keeping active is vital for both physical and mental health in these stressful times, he said. “Get out and get moving. Fresh air helps your brain power, it helps your blood flow, it helps your IQ, it helps you sleep, it increases your metabolic rate. It helps your bone density, especially for women. There’s no downside to it.

“It’s as simple as getting out walking.”

Marsh suggests keeping exercise fun. He started a plank challenge with his Facebook friends, who must post videos to prove how long they can hold the pose.

It could even be an opportunity for people who don’t exercise to get in better shape, he says.

“A lot of people say they don’t have time. ‘Oh, I have to take the kids to soccer, I have to work, I’m commuting.’ Well you know what? That excuse is gone.”

People can also turn to fitness videos online and apps that offer everything from yoga classes to Latin dancing.

Some Ottawa gyms, including GoodLife Fitness and Greco, have posted workouts online for their members.

GoodLife is offering 100 on-demand workouts to members.

Some smaller fitness operations in Ottawa could struggle to stay afloat during closures.

Runners and walkers are seen as folks get outside for some exercise along the Rideau Canal during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wayne Cuddington /


Wheelhouse Cycle, a spin studio on Bank Street, posted a message saying members had asked how they can help. Purchase a gift card, said the proprietors. “Our bikes are going nowhere and neither are we. Snag a gift card to stash away for when we clip back in. Let’s ride this thing out together.”

The owners of Yogatown, which has three studios in Ottawa, posted a video Wednesday saying they were in self-isolation after returning from Mexico.

Tracy and Jason Billows said they had been overwhelmed by the “outpouring of love and support” from Yogatown patrons after they announced the closure.

Some asked that their memberships not be put on hold. “Honestly, we were shocked,” said Tracy in the video. “We were not expecting that to happen at all.” For any members who keep up their payments, all the money will go directly to the teachers and staff who need the income, said Jason.

Yogatown has posted several free yoga sessions on its YouTube channel, including a 40-minute town mix, a 40-minus “power flow” and a 30-minute “stretch and unwind.”

“Yogatown has always prided itself on being a sanctuary where you can come to find relief from the stresses of your day-to-day life, and we are deeply saddened that we can no longer offer that sanctuary at a time when we feel it may be needed most.

As an alternative, we will continue to support your home practice.”

Anytime Fitness began posting free daily at-home workouts on Thursday “sure to cure any cabin fever and boost your energy.”

The 10-minute workout will “get the energy back in your life,” said Coach Louise in Thursday’s video. No equipment required, just a little bit of arm space. “If there’s some kids in your way, just start swinging, knock ’em out of your way!” she joked.

CBC has posted five free 20-minute fitness routines online.



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