A note from the author: Coronavirus halted the publication of this book by four months. While it was ready to publish in March, and definitely needed, making your home healthier is even more relevant now that we know our homes are where we will be until further notice.
Many of us are reluctant to have tradespeople in our living spaces now, especially if there are vulnerable residents or if they’ll disrupt work from home or distance learning.
You can still create a fitness area in your existing rooms. I did that with a yoga mat, rolling the ottoman to one side of the living room to hold a laptop for Zoom workouts, and free weights tucked into a corner when they’re not in use for Kilimanjaro training.
I wasn’t always good at taking care of myself. When my marriage crumbled, I was 48, obese and sedentary. I knew that had to change or I’d have a heart attack or stroke. In journeying from couch potato to training for a Kilimanjaro trek for my 60th birthday this December, I learned some lessons about fitness. After winning a Spartan Race entry, I learned that training and fueling myself for athletic events was much more engaging (especially for someone always chosen last for any school team).
I also discovered that my home could support (or sabotage) my health goals, from making my kitchen more meal-prep friendly to optimizing my bedroom for quality sleep to adding a handheld massaging showerhead to my bathroom for post-trail bliss. My South Bay townhouse (aka Chez J) became my “secret weapon” in my well-being.
The following is an adapted excerpt from my new book, “Wellness by Design: A Room-by-Room Guide to Optimizing Your Home for Health, Fitness and Happiness,” sharing some of what I have learned.
You want to start an exercise program, but most gyms are still closed and you may be living with multiple family members while they work or participate in remote school. You still have options, many of them home-friendly. The first step is to decide what type of workouts make sense for you and what is involved. And definitely talk to your physician before starting any new workout program.
Your ability and motivation to get started are factors, but so are time, space, and financial commitments. If you’re looking at getting into strength training, for example, you’re going to need instruction on how to use the equipment safely (ideally with a certified personal trainer), space for a bench and weights, money to buy the gear, and time to train on it.
If spinning is more your style, you’ll need the right bike and room to use it. The models that come with built-in training programs tend to be bigger investments. There are numerous cardio-focused and yoga programs that require only room to move, a mat, and a DVD player or Wi-Fi-enabled device. There are also numerous YouTube channels and tablet or mobile phone apps with fitness offerings. Some smart TV systems let you access those through their larger screens for easier visibility.
There are also chin-up bars, boxing bags, and suspension systems that can work with your home’s existing interior architecture. Suspension workouts have become very popular but can be dangerous if your gear is not properly mounted. Unless your system is portable — as some are — it is vital to have any permanently installed equipment secured to your walls or ceiling properly mounted.
Fitness at home planning
It doesn’t help to have great gear if it’s difficult or unsafe to access. Can you get on and off easily without banging into a wall or large piece of furniture? If it needs to be plugged in, can it be positioned so that the power cord is not in a walk path? If you fall while using it, will you land on something soft or against a hard piece of furniture or a glass window? If you’re planning a suspension system, it’s ideal to have cushioned slip-resistant mats in place to protect your body and your floors. It’s also ideal to have a safe, convenient place for a phone within reach in case you need to call for assistance. These are all considerations to factor into your fitness space planning.
Before bringing large, heavy equipment into a room, like a multi-station gym, make sure that the flooring structure can handle it. This is usually not an issue with a first-floor location on a concrete slab foundation, but it may be planned for a converted attic or second floor bedroom.
You also need to consider vertical clearances. Will running on an elevating treadmill or using a stair climber put your head in the path of a ceiling fan? Given ceiling fans’ electrical requirements, you may not have much flexibility in their room placement, so you want to be sure that you have full motion clearance to stay safe.
Some equipment generates noise and/or vibrations. Will it interrupt the sleep or study of anyone on the other side of a wall or directly downstairs? If so, is there a mat you can safely use below it to muffle both noise and vibration? This is especially important for apartment or condo dwellers, parents who can only work out while their young ones are asleep, and couples on split shifts. Your workouts should not be causing sleep interruption or stress to anyone around you.
How much space do your workouts actually require? That’s going to vary according to type of workout: Yoga, for example, can be practiced in just a corner of a room, while a full gym may require an entire basement. Privacy can be a factor for workout spaces, both indoors and out, depending on your home’s location and seclusion. You don’t want strangers or neighbors watching your moves!
You do, however, want to be able to watch yourself work out. This will help you ensure that your form is correct, especially with strength training. Install a wall mirror in your workout space so you can monitor your moves.
The dedicated workout space
If you’re designing a home gym or fitness area from scratch, or completely repurposing a room in your home, you’ll also be choosing the flooring materials, lighting, possibly furniture and wall coverings, and athletic equipment you’ll need for your workouts.
Consider not just how much room the machine itself takes up but how much space is required around it for clearance and how much space you’ll need while using it. Don’t overcrowd the room, as you’ll end up with an overpriced, under-functioning space.
Different exercise types and equipment also dictate different flooring types. If you’re doing high-intensity interval training (HIIT), a surface with some give to it, like cork, rubber, or linoleum, can be kinder to your limbs and joints than concrete or tile. Most yoga studio owners prefer wood, wood-like bamboo, or laminate as flooring surfaces. These are generally floating floor systems, which have more give than nailed-down wood, concrete, or tile (which also makes them okay for high-impact workouts) while being easy to maintain. Be sure you’re choosing a surface without excessive formaldehyde.
When it comes to room paint, you definitely want no- or low-VOC choices. The color will be determined by both your favorite shades and the workout being done. Red or orange can energize — perhaps perfect for your HIIT or spin workout. Blue and green can calm, which may be ideal for your yoga space.
Is noise from the new equipment going to be an issue? Adding soft items like drapes, hanging tapestries, and even houseplants can help. Replacing a hollow-core door with a solid model will also make a difference. If your gym is part of a home addition or down-to-the-studs remodel, you can also have your contractor add insulation to the walls and ceiling.
When considering lighting for your home gym, recessed or flush to the ceiling, so that it doesn’t get in the way of your equipment or workouts, is ideal. LEDs won’t heat up the room the way incandescents used to and use less energy, but if you typically work out in the evening, opt for programmable circadian bulbs so you won’t disrupt your sleep cycles.
For some equipment, electrical power and protection against weather are necessary. While it’s wonderful to run in nature, treadmills require a dry location. They’ll handle sweat but not a summer downpour. If your workout spot isn’t weatherized, like a screened-in patio, it may not be feasible for the equipment you want to use.
Wellness tip: Set up a digital picture frame to hold inspirational images in view while you work out. These can be changed to provide timely goal motivation for different training programs.
Good ventilation is also important while you’re exercising. If your fitness space is in a garage, you’ll either want to keep the door partially open or open a window if there is one. If you’re using a room in your home, be sure its air filter is clean and the vent is working properly. If you have allergies or asthma, a HEPA filter can be effective in improving your indoor air quality. An air quality monitor is also helpful for an area where you work out, especially if it’s located close to a space heater, water heater, pet area, or household cleaner storage space. Your lungs are going to be working hard while you work out. You want to give them the most breathable air possible. Some equipment should only stand on hard flooring, not carpet, or would likely damage a soft floor like cork or linoleum. Be sure to know the equipment’s and floor’s specifications before bringing it home.
Where can you stash your hydration so that it’s handy but won’t get knocked over during your workout? What about a sound speaker or video player for serenading or demonstrating your workout? And where can you store the shoes you need for some workouts? A small storage cabinet or shelf to hold these essentials, along with any other exercise and recovery gear, can be a good use of space. Be sure it’s not going to off-gas into the room and it isn’t positioned in such a way that you’ll slam into it when getting on or off your bike, treadmill, stair climber, or other equipment. A mini-fridge or cold-water dispenser can be a nice add-on to your home gym if you have room in your budget and space.
If the room doesn’t have a ceiling fan or central air-conditioning, a window AC unit and standing fan can make strenuous workouts more comfortable. Just as with a cabinet, you’ll want to make sure there’s plenty of room around a standing fan for your movement and safe passage. If this isn’t possible, a table fan on top of a storage cabinet can make good use of limited space.
San Diego-based author Jamie Gold is a Certified Kitchen Designer (CKD), Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS) and a Mayo Clinic Certified Wellness Coach (MCCWC). The above is an adapted excerpt from Gold’s new book, which published Sept. 1: “Wellness by Design: A Room-by-Room Guide to Optimizing Your Home for Health, Fitness & Happiness,” Copyright 2020 by Simon & Schuster Inc. Reprinted by permission of Tiller Press, a Division of Simon & Schuster Inc.