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26 Mar 2020

Coronavirus: Five ways tech can help you keep fit at home

Exercise is important for physical and mental health. Find out how tech can inspire you and help you hit targets in the home

Gyms and leisure centres are closed, but you can still find ways to stay active, both at home and during your outdoors exercise.

A fitness tracker or smartwatch, voice assistant or even your mobile phone can help you stick to a healthy routine, even indoors.

We've outlined five ways to use tech to set targets, keep you motivated, and help avoid spending too much of your quarantine on the couch watching Netflix.

Read all the latest news and advice on COVID-19.

1. Set step-tracking goals

Walking is the simplest form of exercise, and a fitness tracker or smartwatch that can count your steps accurately can be a great way to set and monitor achievable targets.

A wearable can help you keep track of how many steps you clock up while you potter about your house. You can still try to reach a daily goal: 10,000 is a common one, but many wearables let you set a personalised one.

We test how accurately fitness trackers and smartwatches count steps during common household activities, such as packing and unloading a dishwasher, sweeping the floor, going up and down stairs, so there's no need to be too hard on yourself for not going outside - you may have covered more distance than you think.

If you're considering a tracker to help motivate you to stay active, theHonor Band 5 (£28) or Huawei Band 3 Pro (£48) are a good start. Or, for something more advanced, try the Fitbit Inspire HR (£69).

Each of these can track step count accurately, but read the full reviews to find out whether they're also easy to use, comfortable to wear and generally worth the money.

Our guide to the most and least accurate wearables will tell you which of the models we've tested ace step tracking, and which ones can't be relied on.

Struggling to find stock of tech online? Read our guide to alternative tech retailers for some pointers.

2. Learn yoga or pilates

Both yoga and pilates are great for improving your posture, strength and flexibility, stretching your muscles and helping you relax.

If, like many people in the country now, you're spending long hours hunched over a laptop screen, it's particularly important to do stretching exercises.

Luckily, both yoga and pilates can be done at home, from total beginners to the more advanced.

Popular wearables that come with yoga and pilates modes - and a long list of other sports modes - include the Garmin Vivoactive 4 (£219). It gives you the option to build customised yoga and pilates routines with the warm-up, practice, and cool-down exercises you want. And you can also get easy-to-follow animated instructions showing you the positions to adopt, for these sports and a number of others.

The Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 (£260) and Apple Watch Series 5 (£379) are also worth considering.

All three come with modes including indoor rowing and similar exercises, which is handy if you've got at-home gym equipment that you plan to be using. If you're thinking of investing in some exercise equipment, check out our guides to setting up a home gym and setting up a home yoga studio.

3. Get motivation from a voice assistant

If you have an Alexa-enabled Amazon Echo or a Google Home speaker, these can help you workout from your living room by offering tailored instructions and motivation, playing themed playlists from Spotify and more.

There's a wide range available to Alexa users: as a starting point, check out The Body Coach and Five Minute Workout: Core and Cardio on the Alexa Skills store, these are two of the highest-rated workout apps. Or, for something a bit less strenuous, Easy Yoga and Easy Meditation are worth a try.

If you have Google Assistant, things work a little differently. You can integrate your speaker with installed apps like Google Fit, sync with third party tracker apps like Fitbit, and make use of others like Nike Coach and Lose It! to get guidance on working out, and set goals and targets for wellness and nutrition.

Find out more about other Google Assistant, Siri and Alexa commands, and read our guide on buying a smart speaker if you don't already have one in the home.

4. Use smartphone apps to track progress

There are also plenty of smartphone apps that can help you keep fit when you're stuck indoors. These will also connect to your wearable, if you have one.

Popular apps include:

Apple Health If you've got an Apple Watch, it will hoover up your activity data from that. If not, it will take data from your phone's motion sensors, such as how many steps you've taken or floors you've climbed, or you can enter it manually. It will estimate for you how many calories you've burned and show you how your stats have changed over time.

Fitbit CoachOffers workouts from as short as seven minutes to as long as 60 minutes, which you can follow from your phone or computer and recommends exercises based on your daily activity tracked by your Fitbit.

My Fitness Pal You can use this to track the calorie, fat, protein, carb, sugar and cholesterol content in your food, track your water intake, set goals, log steps, strength exercises and cardio exercises, connect with friends with support and much more.

Google Fit Will track your activity, allow you to add activities you've carried out without your phone (and will estimate the number of steps you took based on the time and activity you've recorded), send you reminders and goal updates, and act as a dashboard so you can record your weight.

Samsung HealthAgain, helps you set activity goals and see when you hit your targets, nudges you when you haven't done much exercise, gives you a detailed nutritional breakdown of the food you've eaten and allows you to track your sleep.

5. Find a favourite home workout video series

Fitness instructors and influencers are falling over themselves to offer home workout tutorials. Head to YouTube and you'll find no shortage of these, including plenty of no-equipment workouts for those of us who don't have weights or machinery at home. You can also follow some live via streaming services such as Zoom.

For example, fitness instructor Joe Wicks is uploading daily PE lessons for kids on to his YouTube account, The Body Coach TV and has also put together a 10-minute chair workout for seniors.

Dance studio Seen on Screen is teaching routines you can learn from your living room through itsSchool of SOS Instagram page and through Zoom.

And the NHS has its own online NHS Fitness Studio, where you can find instructor-led videos for aerobics, strength and resistance, and pilates, yoga, belly dancing and more.

Sleep tracking during coronavirus

One of the few advantages of not being able to go out and socialise is that you should have more opportunity to catch up on sleep.

And, while getting enough sleep can't protect you from coronavirus, numerous studies have shown that lack of sleep can shatter your immune system, and contribute to a wide range of health problems and depression. So it's worth getting more if you can.

A fitness tracker or smartwatch can help you keep an eye on how much sleep you're getting and nudge you towards a better night-time routine.

But don't stress too much if you're struggling to meet your sleep goals - you no doubt have enough on your plate at present without piling extra pressure on yourself.

Find out more about how to track sleep on a smartwatch or fitness tracker.

Video: how to track sleep with a smartwatch

Watch our video for more tips and advice from a sleep expert.

Outdoor exercise during coronavirus

Current guidelines state that you can leave home to exercise.

You must stay more than two metres from others not from your household, and are also advised to:

  • Wash your hands immediately on coming back in, using soap and water for at least 20 seconds or hand sanitiser.
  • Avoid touching anything while you're out and about, including park benches, communal water fountains and outdoor gym equipment. If you live in a block of flats and need to pass through a shared area, avoid touching your face after touching communal door handles and clean your hands straightaway on re-entering. If you can take the stairs rather than the lift, you'll avoid touching the lift button and you'll get a bit more exercise in too.
  • Avoid anywhere crowded If you've got any flexibility with your schedule, choose times and places that are less likely to be popular, and where maintaining a safe distance from others will be easier.

How to protect yourself and others from coronavirus - we explain how to help prevent infection, and which health products are worth buying and which ones are not.