It’s stable enough for mountain climbers with enough cushioning for rocking back and forth in the fetal position.

By Betty Gold
March 20, 2020
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I’m sure everyone can agree that it’s been one of the most anxiety-inducing weeks we’ve had, worldwide, in quite some time. We’re all well aware of the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle right now. Wash your hands properly, practice social distancing, clean and sanitize germy areas, and stock up on nutritious shelf-stable pantry essentials. Check in with loved ones, and don’t forget to self-soothe while stuck inside social distancing. Yes, yes and more yes. But what quells my cortisol levels better than anything (even anxiety baking)? Exercise.

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Indeed, when your body’s stress level is soaring, research has shown that working out is one of the most effective ways to combat it. Conversely, chronic stress can weaken your immune system and cause uncomfortable issues, like nausea and headaches. “Regular physical activity can improve quality of life and relieve stress, tension, anxiety, and depression,” states the American Heart Association. “You may notice a ‘feel good’ sensation immediately following your workout and also see an improvement in overall well-being over time as physical activity becomes a regular part of your life.”

I tend to identify with the term "high strung" on any given day, and physical activity is one of the few things I can look to to make me a more chill, sane person. I wake up at 5 a.m., go for a long run or hit a workout class, walk four miles to work, and walk home. I also have type-1 diabetes, a chronic autoimmune disorder in which your pancreas stops producing insulin, so maintaining a consistent workout routine keeps my blood sugar in check. Point being: without exercise, I am a shell of myself.

In a pandemic, workout classes, gyms, and walking into the office are no longer viable options, particularly for those of us with highly compromised immune systems (and unstable glucose levels put type-1 diabetics at an even higher risk than we are already). Running is a godsend, weather permitting. But being stuck inside doesn’t have to mean we can’t move. Whether you’re partial to cardio workouts, strength training, yoga, or pilates, there’s really only one product you need to practice at home: a reliable yoga mat. This simple object will make a world of difference in your ability to do floor exercises, and finding the right one matters. It should be supportive enough to hold you up without sliding and have ample cushioning to keep your knees and other joints comfortable.

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For me, the Gaiam Premium Yoga Mat ($25, amazon.com) is it. The extra thick (but super lightweight) PVC-made mat has been powering me through pilates, yoga, and floor workouts since college. Its surface is super stable, so even when things get extra sweaty, you won’t slip around. And if you need extra joint support, you’ll appreciate the Gaiam's soft cushioning. The 24-inch by 68-inch surface is large enough for me to get buck with burpees or fully outstretch during shavasana, but still fits into my shoebox-sized New York City studio apartment.

For a top-performing yoga mat, you won’t do much better than the Gaiam’s price point: you can find it in 30 fun prints and colors for just $25 right now. Between this mat, a couple of hand weights, some sliders, and a steady stock of fitness streaming apps, me and my sanity are hangin’ in there. I’m also going to take a minute to thank all the amazing fitness instructors who have rallied their communities to keep exercising together. They’re live streaming workouts (my personal favorite has been Sydney Miller’s Housework classes, which include a $2 donation to Feeding America), offering personal training over video, and curating upbeat playlists and online companionship for your living room dance parties—so you won’t ever have to worry about sweating alone.

Gaiam Yoga Mat

To Buy: Gaiam Premium Yoga Mat, $25; amazon.com 

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