Our lives changed dramatically in March 2020 when COVID-19 was declared a pandemic. Many Americans found themselves working from home, homeschooling children, and avoiding unnecessary trips outside of their homes.
While focusing on preventing the spread of the disease, there have been hidden challenges lurking beneath the surface waiting to compromise our health and well-being. Some of the consequences from the sudden disruption in daily life include worry, isolation, greater family and work stress, and excessive screen time. One of the biggest consequences of isolation is trading in physical activity for more sedentary behaviors.
We know the result of more time spent sitting and less time spent being active results in an increased risk for a number of serious long-term health conditions such as stroke, diabetes, heart disease and obesity.
By being more active and sitting less, we not only can protect ourselves from these health conditions, but we also can prevent things like falls and osteoporosis and treat other conditions like arthritis, certain cancers, chronic pain, depression and anxiety.
How Can I Safely Stay Active During The Pandemic?
With schools and fitness facilities closed, many individuals were left without an outlet or any direction on how to continue to be physically active.
While it may seem harder to stay active during the pandemic, it is not impossible. Follow these guidelines to exercise safely.
- Do not exercise if you have a fever, cough, or difficulty breathing. Stay home and rest. If symptoms do not improve, seek medical attention and call in advance.
- Practice social distancing when you go for bike rides, walks or exercise outside.
- Continue precautions to slow the spread of viruses, including handwashing. Wash your hands with soap and water before you leave, when you get to where you are going, and when you return home. If soap and water are not available to you, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
How Can I Exercise At Home?
Especially as colder weather approaches, indoor options for exercise are good alternatives to stopping sedentary habits. Here are some tips for keeping yourself strong and healthy at home.
The CDC's Prevent T2 program for preventing and delaying Type 2 Diabetes recommends taking two-minute fitness breaks every 30 minutes to break up sedentary time. The break doesn’t need to be long or vigorous or make you sweat. The only requirement is to move.
During your two-minute break you could walk in place, walk a lap, take the stairs or do any sort of movement that gets your heart rate up.
Sometimes intermittent exercise spread throughout the day can be more beneficial than doing 60 minutes at once. Part of this is because 10 minutes at a time is more manageable for some people. The other part is it helps to break up time spent sitting. Pick five to ten exercises you feel comfortable doing. Once you you’ve decided on what to do, perform that exercise for one minute at your own pace.
Exercising at your own pace allows you to easily adjust the intensity. For heart health, you’ll know you’re challenging yourself enough if you can talk in full sentences but cannot sing. For strength, you should be able to speak in short sentences.
If coming up with a rigid exercise program is difficult for you to do or time consuming, try writing down basic exercises like squats or toe raises on separate smaller pieces of paper and stick them in a jar. Whenever you have time, you can reach into the jar and pull one or more exercises to do for a minute or two. Five exercises for two minutes each is an easy way to get 10 minutes of physical activity in.
Walking is a great way to support a healthy heart and muscles. You can casually stroll or use it as an exercise tool by playing with how fast you’re walking. Try alternating between brisk walking and slow walking. Whether it's seconds or minutes, you’re sure to get your heart rate up.
What Counts For Physical Activity?
The National Heart, Blood, and Lung Institute defines physical activity is any body movement that works your muscles and requires more energy than resting. Walking, running, dancing, swimming, yoga and gardening are a few examples of physical activity.
How much daily activity you need varies depending on your age.
Children under 1 year
Be physically active several times a day
Children under 5 years
At least 180 minutes a day in physical activity. 3 and 4 year olds should be moderately or vigorously active for an hour a day.
Children and Adolescents between 5 and 17 years
At least 60 minutes a day of moderate to vigorous physical activity, including activities to strengthen bone and muscle at least 3 days per week.
Adults over 18 years
At least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity throughout the week, or at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity throughout the week, including muscle-strengthening activities 2 or more days per week. Older adults with poor mobility should do physical activity to enhance balance and prevent falls on 3 or more days per week.
Any activity is better than none. Consider looking at a clock. If you were to write down the time frames in which you spend laying down, sitting, or lounging, how much of that clock would be accounted for? In a typical day, an individual may spend 8 hours sleeping, 1 hour traveling, 8 hours at work, 2 hours eating, and 2 hours watching TV. That only leaves 3 hours to spare. What can you do with that time? And can any of the big chunks of time – other than sleeping – be broken up into smaller sections?
How we combat the increased time spent on screen and at home and decreased time spent being physically active will be different for everyone. The key is to sit less and move more.
How Can I Begin An Exercise Routine?
If you did not exercise regularly prior to COVID-19, make sure to start slow and with low intensity exercises. Start with shorter amounts of time and gradually build up from there. Gradual build ups will help reduce the risk of injury. You also can reduce your risk of injury by remembering to drink water and listen to your body.
If you experience pain that does not get better with rest, seek further evaluation and medical attention through your healthcare provider or one of our Franciscan Sports Medicine Physicians.
By Jordan Devenney