By Rachel Welch
Many of us spent extra time inside during the past year or so. With COVID, many gyms and fitness locations closed down or weren't safely available. This inspired many to create a workout space at home! In larger homes, this may not have been too challenging. But, some of us have smaller spaces to work with, and therefore need exercises that fit in the space that we have. Let's discuss some terrific tiny space workouts.
The benefits of exercise are numerous, with great potential to help both the body and the brain. In addition to ensuring proper nutrition, we also need to engage in exercise that is beneficial. As we age, our brains begin to shrink. This leads to a decrease in functioning and cognition. Research has shown that the only way to preserve the health and size of our brain as we age is through regular exercise. Exercise habits are the main contributor to higher cognitive functioning later in life. Various studies have confirmed that adults who engaged in weekly exercise had the equivalent of 4 fewer years of brain aging (1)! That means, even with crossword puzzles, brainteasers, and proper nutrition, our brains still require exercise to be healthy in the long run!
An animal-based study over the course of 6-12 months showed that exercise increased neuroplasticity (the brain's ability to create new and healthier pathways). This, in turn, led to an increase in learning outcomes (2). Therefore, not only will exercise protect the brain’s current state, but it also has the potential to increase learning potential. Pair that with the mental health benefits of exercise, and it's clear that exercise should be a part of everyone's weekly routine!
Our bodies benefit from exercise in many ways, too. From decreased health issues, lower blood pressure, and improved strength and circulation, our bodies love to exercise! And, it doesn't have to be an intense workout to be beneficial. One study found that even gardening or dancing yielded benefits (1).
So, what is the best exercise solution for your tiny space?
Yoga is highly beneficial to both body and mind, and it barely requires any space! If you have room for a yoga mat, you have room for a number of highly beneficial exercises. I put this into practice myself back in 2019 when I lived in Hong Kong. In a tiny apartment over a salon, where the shower was over the toilet, space was not readily available. So, I had to adjust my workouts to fit in my mini abode. My yoga mat was my best friend, and allowed for a number of stretches, yoga routines, and meditative practices that kept my health on track!
For tiny spaces, if you have a yoga mat and a yoga video, you have a wonderful option for exercise!
Core or abdominal workouts are another type of exercise that don't require much space. Grab your yoga mat or a towel and lay down for some crunches. You can strengthen your core and get your heart pumping with Russian twists, sit-ups, push-ups, planks, and more! You can check out one of many options for core-strengthening routines here (3).
If you don't have a yoga mat or weights, you can still find creative ways to work out in your small space. There are numerous bodyweight exercises available, like the ones here. (4) Squats, jumping jacks, lunges, and dance can be done in any space, with or without props or equipment. Also, you can always improvise with items around your house to add weight. Soup cans, bags of flour, milk cartons, and other 2-5 pound items can be a great impromptu addition to your workout.
As research has shown us, it's not necessary to stick to traditional workouts to gain benefits for the brain and body. Gardening and caring for our plants works well in any space, large or small. Gardening and working with plants also has the potential to help our mental health. In addition to improving air quality and oxygen, there is a bacteria in the soil of plants that actually helps to decrease anxiety and depression. Mycobacterium vaccae has the same effect on neurons as Prozac and may help to increase serotonin in the brain (5). So, using your green thumb and caring for your plant babies can also help your mental health!
Other unique exercise examples include dancing, playing with your pet or children, and even cleaning your home can be a form of exercise! Vacuuming, sweeping, mopping, and wiping down counters can all contribute to your health if you add a bit of energy to it! Turn up your favorite music and hop to it!
Even if you have a small space, there are many healthy, fun, and creative options to make your exercise routine a great one. Try some of these tiny space workouts and let us know what worked best for you!