Focus on Fitness: Some wellness tips for these challenging times

By Gloria Schwartz

If you’re not used to exercising at home and you don’t know where to start, you can follow along with my latest exercise videos at There are literally millions of exercise videos online, but I thought it would be of interest to my readers and clients to see a familiar person demonstrating exercises. While some of you may have dumbbells and other fitness equipment, others do not, so I’ve tailored my exercises to the common denominator. In my videos, I focus on strengthening the upper body, lower body and abs using your own body for resistance, as well as everyday items you can find at home such as canned goods and a box of cereal. Check back from time to time for my new videos.

I know many seniors are completely housebound, so I’ve also created a chair fitness video based on the classes I normally teach to the Creative Connections group at the Soloway Jewish Community Centre (SJCC) and to residents of Hillel Lodge. If you have an elderly parent or grandparent who would like to do some gentle exercise, you can direct them to my website.

This period of isolation is especially challenging for the elderly who are among the most vulnerable. Many of them don’t use computers or smartphones and are both physically and virtually cut off from family and friends. We mustn’t forget them. In mid-March when my father became confined to his apartment due to a COVID-19 outbreak in his Montreal seniors’ residence, I reached out on Facebook to my friends and acquaintances. I asked if anyone would like to write a short letter or card to my father to help him feel connected to the world outside of his apartment. I was moved to tears by all the kind people who wrote to him. Some people even got their young children involved in sending colourful artwork and beautiful words of encouragement. My older son, who came home from Israel, emailed his medical school friends asking if anyone could send my father a letter from Israel. My father received a few dozen letters over a period of several weeks from people aged five to 99! The five-year old boy wrote that he would daven for my father. Even though the letters were from people whom my father doesn’t know, he phoned me excitedly each time he received a letter and asked me to thank the writers. If you know someone who is isolated, you can do a mitzvah by sending them a card. A friendly phone call to older people you know is also something that can brighten their day. Reaching out to others serves a dual purpose: it lets the receiver know that you care and it helps distract you from your own worries. 

A Friendly Voice is non-profit organization that provides a free phone line for seniors (age 55+) in Ontario who are lonely or sad and would like to talk to someone. You can speak to someone between 8 am and midnight at 613-692-9992 or outside of Ottawa at 1-855-892-9992.

When the weather is nice, I work out on my driveway instead of in the house. I play my favourite music and skip, squat, lunge or do a variety of other exercises. One day I danced for almost two hours, using a broom as my partner. I hung up a sign that says “Smile.” Most people who passed by waved and smiled or engaged in a brief conversation from a distance. Some drivers honked. One older man who saw me exercising told me he was going to dust off his elliptical that he’d been using to hang clothing on. If you have exercise equipment that’s been gathering dust, now is the time to use it.

Sometimes a bit of innovation is what you need to find a workaround to the current limitations. I was missing playing pickleball at the SJCC, so I tried playing outside against my garage door. It worked pretty well and didn’t cause any damage to the door.

Since the bridges are blocked off between Ottawa and Gatineau, I can’t go to my cottage. So, I cancelled my Ottawa home lawn service and am spending time working on yard cleanup. I’m saving money, spending more time outside and getting some exercise doing gardening.

Because we don’t know how many more weeks or months we’ll be required to stay home, it’s a good idea to prepare mentally by having a simple plan. We can’t control a lot of things these days and that can really get us down. But if we focus on the little things that we can control, that will help us a lot. Find ways to help yourself and your loved ones stay fit and stay emotionally connected. Reach out to those who are alone. Don’t be afraid to ask friends, neighbours or the community for help. If you go outside, smile at strangers because if you’re feeling lonely or anxious, they probably are too. Of course, if you’re wearing a mask no one can see your smile but a nod or wave is good too.

What’s working for you during this unprecedented period of isolation? Do you have tips to share? Send your thoughts to and I may include your ideas in an upcoming article. Wishing you all good health!