The virus is not your boss: Go outside to outsmart it

Dr. Thye Schuyler

Thye Schuyler, MD, medical director of the Salem Health Sleep Clinic, is also a fitness fanatic who loves teaching. He’s offered tips on hot-weather sleeping, using coffee to improve napping (really!) and football-inspired workouts.

With the warmer weather, we asked him about recreation safety during COVID-19. He had a lot to say — with one key suggestion: Go outside. The benefits of simply being outdoors may surprise you.

By Dr. Thye, the Sleep Guy

I get to help thousands of patients every year and see patterns all the time. During the pandemic, some common complaints have been exactly what you’d expect: isolation, loneliness, boredom, sadness and fear.

But one complaint is especially prevalent — sneaky weight gain. I’ve lost count of the number who reported gaining the “COVID 19,” though weight gain generally ranges from 5 to 20 pounds (or more). Weight management is one thing we can control during the COVID-19 pandemic. Warmer weather offers the perfect time to lose weight by being more active!

Be tactical, not impulsive

With more people vaccinated, it’s tempting to fall back to old routines, like hitting the gym. If you do, please read the CDC guidelines. Being inside working out near other people is still not the safest method to get in shape — so I recommend other options.

Outdoor workouts are best

Outside workouts wake the body up, leading to more energy use doing the same exercises. In a gym, the eyes are exposed to comparably low light, so your brain thinks it’s working out at dusk or dawn — not great if you’re trying to maximize wakefulness, elevate core body temperature and burn more calories.

On the other hand, when outdoors — where it is up to 2,000 times brighter core body temperature rises and your internal clock understands it is supposed to be wide awake. This leads to better sleep at night because the body temperature cooling phase is greater by comparison.

Outdoor exercise — especially  running or walking — burns far more calories than going the same distance on a treadmill. Physical obstacles, wind resistance, heat, hills and different surfaces make you work harder, expending more energy.

Harder workouts generally mean better results for body and mind — and better sleep too. This is because the brain compensates for a hard workout by deepening sleep to help heal muscles. Additional calories burned can mean more weight loss, less anxiety and depression, better cognitive processing and improved self-esteem.

Challenge yourself with your own weight!

Most gyms offer fancy equipment, TVs and air-conditioned luxury. But stop and observe — gym-goers will lift a little, sit around, check their phones, maybe write something down — then lift a little more.

Sound familiar?

Such workouts offer minimal results for the time spent.

Consider CrossFit: Less equipment, more outdoor workouts. Heck, these gyms were focused on exercise outdoors years before COVID-19. And their members are fit. Most of us can’t come close to keeping up with them.

I recommend being a little more Crossfit-ish.

Work on the basics at home or outdoors: jumping jacks, pushups, sit-ups, air squats, wind sprints, kettlebell swings, burpees, lunges, jumping rope, etc. All of these exercises are straightforward but hard to perform. I love the simplicity of these exercises and that they can be done outdoors. Push yourself a little each time and you will be stunned with your progress. For example, start by alternating running and walking for 15 minutes the first day and do a pushup at the end. Add a little time to the run/walk and an extra pushup the next time. Within a month, you will find yourself run/walking longer and doing pushups with ease.

Working out at home

If getting outdoors is challenging, working out at home is possible too. Here are a few tips:

  • Exercise while binge-watching TV. I certainly do.
  • Use your own equipment.
  • Find free workout videos on YouTube and try following along.
  • Walk briskly up and down steps or around the house to music.
  • Dance to your favorite music.

Start slowly for a week, gradually working up to three times a day for 10 to 15 minutes.

Find something you like doing that makes you sweat – maybe dancing--, and do it at least 30 minutes a day, four times per week. If you can’t go that long, work up to it.

Find a friend

Exercise is easier to accomplish when you have a friend —not only to push each other — but just to get out there. Nobody wants to let their buddy down. I used to joke that I never prayed more in my life than when I was in medical school — Every morning I’d pray my friend Brian would NOT show up at 5:30 a.m. to pick me up to work out. How I wanted to sleep in! But my prayers were never answered. Brian always arrived, and I became more fit as a result.

Make a strategy and start today! Anxiety, boredom and sluggishness will soon give way to better sleep at night and more alertness during the day. The “COVID 19 just might start dropping too!


Watch for more advice from Dr. Thye The Sleep Guy, who stresses the importance of overall health and fitness to get a good night’s sleep.​