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Perhaps we can be forgiven for slacking off our exercise routines or gaining the “Quarantine 15” during the past several weeks. Gyms, fitness centers and several recreation areas have been closed. Eating (especially high-calorie “comfort food”) has become an activity as we spend more time at home.

But, now more than ever, staying in shape is essential – not only for the physical benefits but also for the significant mental and emotional advantages.

A new poll shows that a whopping half of Americans are suffering from fear, anxiety, stress, boredom, isolation, and other mental health issues during the COVID crisis. That’s distressing news indeed, and seniors who live alone are particularly vulnerable. But physical fitness can greatly mitigate the effects of these trying times.

Even something as simple as taking a short stroll outside one’s residence is immensely helpful. In fact, people are out walking, running and bicycling considerably more than they were before shelter in place orders took effect.

It’s well-documented that exercise increases chemicals in the brain such as serotonin, dopamine and endorphins that boost mood, relieve stress and contribute to feelings of well-being. The “runner’s high” associated with euphoria and reduced pain is so-named for a reason.

In addition to “happy hormones,” regular physical fitness encourages a healthy weight and body mass index. Fewer pounds mean better heart and lung function, lowered blood pressure, reduced risk of diabetes and some cancers, and less strain on bones and joints, which is especially important for older adults.

Staying active also boosts immune function and improves sleep. What’s more, physical activity provides opportunities for vital social bonding, which (while limited during social distancing) is still possible to achieve. Families and co-habitants can engage in physical activity together, and virtual technology has opened up a whole new world of opportunities for everything, including online exercises and fitness classes.

Experts suggest that during this time of upended routines and “what day is it?” imbalance, setting fitness goals and engaging in consistent workout rhythms are key. Keeping a diet and exercise journal can also help restore equilibrium and reinforce objectives.

Naperville is home to miles of walking/biking trails with plenty of space to safely distance from walking pals and still carry on a conversation. Naperville’s Riverwalk, dubbed the city’s “crown jewel,” is a natural and man-made gem of water, flora, fauna and interesting statues, fountains and structures.

While we’ve had to make some adjustments to our robust fitness program these past few months, our in-house TV station, exercise videos and innovative staff have helped residents stay committed to their fitness regimes and achieve – even surpass – their goals. Technology has swiftly taken center stage, and our seniors are learning fast how to leverage it on all fronts.

Unprecedented circumstances didn’t squelch Monarch Landing’s six-week “Idle Ironman” challenge. Once they had to shelter in place, the real challenge began, but participants pressed on by using portable pedal bikes and walking extra miles around the building to make up for the lost swimming portion due to our pool closure.

Currently, residents are taking advantage of spring weather and Monarch Landing’s scenic, 60-acre grounds by participating at safe social distances in an outdoor fitness circuit consisting of eight stations around the perimeter of the campus.

They received Ironman t-shirts, encouragement from fellow residents and staff, and the satisfaction that nothing – not even a global pandemic – can keep them down!