Opinion: 'Abs during lockdown' is the unwanted pandemic pressure I didn't see coming

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With the nation-wide lockdown comes a barrage of pressure over what we should be doing at home, writes Sarah Templeton. Photo credit: Instagram.

If I were to pick two words that most greatly summed up this outlandish period in our country's history, they would obviously be the all-consuming: 'coronavirus pandemic'.

But close behind them are two words that have almost been as pervasive and difficult to avoid: 'home workout'. 

When Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced last week that all non-essential businesses were to close for four weeks, that of course included the country's gyms, fitness studios and instructors. But maybe I was naive, watching her address with the rest of the country, in not realising that meant they were all going to start renting the space in my newsfeeds. 

For those of us who have struggled in the past or are still suffering from disordered eating, the lockdown has been an unexpected minefield. 

Gyms, fitness instructors, Instagram influencers and your old high school classmate are all posting their favourite home workouts for glutes! legs! and cardio! while 'EASY 10 MINUTE ABS AT HOME' are promised almost every minute. 

Similarly, social media offers a barrage of strict 'advice' on eating healthily at home and making low-calorie recipes with the ingredients we all bought after nervously waiting in line to be let into the supermarket one-by-one.

"Use this time to sweat!" an influencer perkily captions her post, which is ironic given I AM sweating. I'm sweating because I'm in the demographic with the highest number of coronavirus sufferers in the country - young women in their twenties. But in my head, I'm not sweating enough unless I'm turning the limited numbers of cans in my pantry into hand weights and counting my reps.

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The hashtag 'home workout' on Instagram has millions of daunting results. Photo credit: Instagram.

Our homes are now our gyms. Spaces that used to be our sanctuaries of calm - the bedroom, the lounge - see us all furiously busting out 100 burpees and press-ups while fearing we're not doing as many as our neighbours. 

The worry all comes down to this the idea that if we're home, we should be DOING SOMETHING so we don't get LAZY during the lockdown. It's a flurry of panic I get in my chest when I'm sitting on the couch reading my book - I could be putting on the washing, or cleaning out my wardrobe, or - above all - exercising. Exercising! I should be exercising!

I realised with a shock today that my fear of getting COVID-19 and my growing fear of gaining weight during lockdown were almost equally matched.  

It can be a tough thing to remember that just because we're 'resting' at home, we're still under immense stress. The news of COVID-19 coming at us is constant and most of it isn't good. I am incredibly lucky to be in a job that's counted as 'essential', but that's not to say its easy working in the media where coronavirus news is 24/7. We're in fight or flight mode all day - we're all stressed, we're all anxious. 

We're being told to just do 20, 30, 60 minutes of exercise a day as if those other 1380 minutes in the day are being spent sipping cocktails by the pool. It doesn't make it easier to see people doing 500 burpee challenges when I'm just worried about making a lunch that's not entirely beige. 

But when we look back on this unprecedented time in our world's history, will we really care or even remember how much we weighed? I have no idea how fit I was in the weeks after the Christchurch earthquake when my house had no running water and we were frantically trying to eat everything defrosting in the freezer. Similarly, I haven't read any accounts from those who lived through the World Wars indicating they were worried they might lose their ab definition or their lifting PB. 

I want to make clear, this all isn't to say I'm anti-exercise. I've personally countered my coronavirus anxiety with finding joy in slow movement again. Like many, I've rediscovered a love of walks, pounding the streets of my neighbourhood, listening to podcasts and waving at neighbours while giving them a wide berth. When did going for a walk stop being counted as exercise?

I also am tending to the tight hips and restless legs that come with lockdown with online yoga classes from that close personal friend of everyone's, Yoga with Adriene. And I've occasionally been 'sexily' dancing around my living room to a weekly class from Auckland initiative OK Now Ladies, forcing my long-suffering partner to watch and give me compliments. 

What I've decided I will no longer do is give a damn about my quarantine 'diet', fret that I've eaten too many carbohydrates at my home office desk, or worry that I should be doing yoga in my lounge on my lunch break.

Instead let's Facetime or Houseparty with friends outside of our bubbles, cook with our same-bubble teams and have sex with our same-bubble partners. 

If we can learn one thing from this awful time it's that life is too precious, fragile and short to worry only about someone else's glute challenge. 

Sarah Templeton is Newshub's Lifestyle Editor.