Some gyms are closed because of the coronavirus. What can a person do to keep in shape without access to all that equipment? Well, once upon a time such things as gyms and fitness centres didn’t even exist. Nor did sports stores. Nor Amazon. People found ways to keep physically active and fit using their imagination and ingenuity, which often meant using what was to hand.
Thinking about physical activities that could be carried out by those of us who don’t have our own in-house gyms, and while respecting the coronavirus restrictions (staying home and maintaining the two-metre distance between people), I came up with two – ping pong and skipping rope. Both have much to recommend them, and both can be improvised.
Ping pong, sometimes called table tennis, started out in the late 19th century as a parlour game played by upper-class Victorians to while away the evening after dinner. By the 1890’s people probably had the proper equipment – paddles, small balls, and a net strung across a table – but it’s believed that the game actually originated a few decades earlier with British military officers in India and South Africa who, in the best makeshift fashion, used cigar-box lids as paddles, bottle corks for balls and books stacked across the middle of the table as a net.
Why not set up an “alternative” ping pong table in your home? If you have a dining table that’s about 9 by 5 feet, you can line up books or other items of more or less uniform height across the middle and that will be your net. For paddles use small cutting boards or stiff, easy to hold place mats. Balls may be trickier to improvise, unless you have corks. I found something suitable in the dollar store – toy “golf balls,” very light, only $1.25 for 9.
Now to the skipping rope. If you don’t already have one, you can make your own. Check if there isn’t a suitable length of rope lying around in your garage or workshop. Or buy some rope at a hardware store. Ropes are made from many different materials and how supple or stiff they are will have an effect on how they perform. For the correct length, stand on the middle of the rope and bring the two ends up to your armpits.
Did you know that skipping rope is one of the best body workouts, burning more calories per hour (between 800-1000) than swimming (550), jogging (600) or cycling (700)? You can do it almost anywhere. Indoors, if your house has high ceilings. Otherwise, on your driveway or in a parking lot.
Skipping rope is a rhythmic exercise. Traditionally children sing songs while skipping rope. Some songs are centuries old. Here’s another, a skipping rope rhyme for our time, by me, especially for you.
One-a-virus, two-a-virus, three-a-virus, four,
Wash your hands more often than you ever did before.
Hands off face, no touching mouth, not even itchy nose,
Gotta stop that virus or the epidemic grows.
Sabine Eiche is a local writer and art historian with a PhD from Princeton University. She is passionately involved in preserving the environment and protecting nature. Her columns deal with a broad range of topics and often include the history (etymology) of words in order to shed extra light on the subject.