Bring Sally Up: The role of exercising in self-isolation

Unfortunately, the current pandemic means that many students returning to the UK or arriving in halls for the first time will have to self-isolate for two weeks. This is a particularly difficult experience if you are a fresher, being cut-off from almost all in person interaction at a time when you are leaving your old social support network. Additionally, we will all be spending a lot more time secluded in our rooms this year, a place where, at the best of times, it is easy to fall into a slump, forgoing your work in favour of binging video games or television. (I’ve been there.)

The key benefits of exercise

Most important to staying mentally healthy and productive in this time is curiously one’s physical health. The is evidence that aerobic exercise reduces anxiety [1] and helps improve learning [2]. This makes it an indispensable tool for helping one focus or relax. More simply, it is also an easy solution return oneself to a comfortable emotional baseline. It is very difficult to think one’s self out of a period of sadness, demotivation or anxiety; trying to do so generally only makes the situation worse. However, as pointed out by CGP Grey in his excellent video on creating a productive environment in lockdown, exercise provides a simple starting point, where any effort is better than no effort.

Exercising in your room

Exercising in a small dorm room is potentially inconvenient. Many of us are used to exercising outdoors or in a gym, be it running, cycling, weight lifting or team sports. The dorm room environment can be demotivating, devoid of the motivating beauty of the outdoors, lacking the social motivator of group activity and without the familiar habits formed around our prefered form of exercise. For some it may even be daunting, if we are used to only exercising in the form of walking outdoors.

However, this is not to say there are not fun exercises that can be done in a small space. Basic calisthenic exercises like push ups, squats and situps are obvious, but in my experience it’s hard to set a reasonable and motivating target for these.

Recently I found the song Bring Sally Up, which I’ve found fantastically fun and motivating for these types of exercises. It relies on the principle that most exercises have a point where the exercise is at it’s most difficult, therefore more effort is expended holding the movement in this position and not just moving around; eg. holding a push up in the down position.

You go down to the difficult position when the singer says “Bring Sally Down” and up again when they say “Bring Sally Up”. A warning is necessary here, if you’re doing the song with pushups (knee push ups are great too) or leg raises (keep your legs at about 10° from the ground for the down position), completing the entire song in one go requires a very high level of fitness. Instead, pause the song every time you need a rest and give yourself 30 seconds to a minute to breath before resuming. Have fun and laugh at just how ridiculously hard it is.

A more relaxing alternative (or accompaniment) to this is yoga. There are lots of great yoga routines to follow on youtube and hopefully at some point Imperial’s yoga society will start operating remote sessions again.



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