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Need a way to exercise? Get out and walk the dog

April 14, 2020

April Bowling is a former competitive triathlete, endurance coach, and assistant professor of public health at Merrimack College.

But as the mother of two energetic teenagers, the Essex resident knows how hard it is to keep fit now that school and sporting events are suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“We walk the dog about 20 times a day, alone and together, go hiking and running outside,” said Bowling, a member of Merrimack’s COVID-19 task force. “We avoid places with lots of other people.”

While Bowling endorses the statewide order to shutter large gatherings, she said adhering to a fitness regimen — one that includes cardiovascular and resistance training — is important to maintain overall health.

“Find a way of working out that you like and can stick to,” she said. “It doesn’t really matter what you choose to do. You don’t need to go out and buy weights to use at home. Body weight strength training works too.”

The current rules regarding self-isolation and social distancing, despite their necessity, “are really challenging,” Bowling acknowledged. To avoid claustrophobia, Bowling and her family get outside.

“We’re outside, every day, rain or shine, cold or warm, but we stick to places that don’t have a lot of other folks,” she said.

Bowling, her husband, Peter Phippen, and their teenage son and daughter also keep active with a home gym featuring bikes on windtrainers, TRX training equipment, a treadmill, yoga mats, and free weights. They also employ remote workouts and workout apps available online.

“We have the workout studio in our house running full speed,” she said. “I believe strongly in supporting local businesses — your local yoga studio is more than likely holding virtual classes. Same with local YMCAs and gyms.

“It’s a win-win situation,” said Bowling. “You get an online class — usually very cheap, as in $5 or less — while helping your local businesses stay afloat during challenging times.”

General fitness standards — proper sleep, exercise, nutrition, and hydration — all have an impact on our immune systems, said Bowling.

“Physical activity is critical to stress management and self-care,” she said. “It’s also clear that regular, moderate exercise helps boost immunity in general, which can help prevent infection and minimize severity of illness.”

Just don’t overdo it.

“Folks may also want to consider modifying their training to avoid long bouts of intense exercise, particularly if they are in a high-risk category, such as over the age of 60,” Bowling said.

Finally, Bowling encouraged people who are looking for accurate information on the pandemic to visit the Centers for Disease Control website (

“We’re seeing tons of misinformation out there,” she said.

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