How to prevent the sedentary pandemic lifestyle from affecting your health

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This story was originally published in December 2020.

Between self-isolation, working from home, and shutting down many businesses and facilities, the coronavirus has resulted in more sedentary lifestyles for many. This has resulted in both emotional and physical impacts on people.

However, there is a solution: small changes can help offset these impacts.

“Obviously [COVID-19] has changed our behavior in many ways, ”said James Graves, professor of exercise, health and athletic sciences at the University of Southern Maine. “Physical activity is only one aspect of our daily life that has been affected. ”

Graves noted that even under the best of circumstances, relatively few people achieve recommended levels of daily physical activity. The pandemic has only made matters worse, as collection restrictions have further limited opportunities to exercise in yoga classes, group fitness classes, or even at the gym or community center.

A study published in August 2020 by researchers at the Chinese University of Hong Kong showed low levels of physical activity, high time spent in sedentary behaviors and long duration of sleep in young adults during the COVID pandemic -19, with less than half of participants meeting one of the recommended guidelines for physical activity, sedentary behavior, or sleep.

The impacts of a sedentary lifestyle

Sustained physical inactivity and sedentary behavior have been linked to poor physical and mental health and an increased risk of disease-specific morbidity and mortality. As a group, Graves said these conditions are called “hypokinetic diseases.”

“We’re talking about things like heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol [and] osteoporosis, ”Graves said.

Many of these conditions develop over a long period of time, but even a short period of exposure to a sedentary lifestyle can impact your health. A 2019 study from the University of Texas at Austin showed that reducing the number of daily steps from around 10,000 to 1,500 steps over a two-week period impairs insulin sensitivity and lipid metabolism, increases visceral fat and decreases lean mass and cardiovascular fitness in healthy adults. Perhaps more troubling, reintegrating exercise into your routine after a four-day period of inactivity couldn’t counteract all of the negative effects.

The results are even more disturbing for the elderly. A 2018 study from McMaster University showed that reducing the number of daily steps to less than 1,500 steps – similar to the activity level of people confined to the house during this pandemic – for just two weeks can reduce the sensitivity to insulin of an elderly person up to a third. The same period of inactivity also led people over 65 to lose up to four percent of their leg muscles. Even when the research subjects returned to their normal daily routines, they did not regain their lost muscle.

On a more extreme level, Jay Polsgrove, associate professor and exercise science program coordinator at Husson University, said scientists have found similar impacts looking at the impacts of prolonged periods of bed rest.

“You advance the aging process,” Polsgrove said. “Everything that happens with aging: increased blood pressure, increased body weight, decreased bone density [and] muscle volume – all of these things happen at a much faster rate. It’s really hard to get over it. The same is happening at home. You’re not in bed per se, but you’re pretty much just sitting there in a small room, not being so active.

Young people also experience the negative effects of a sedentary lifestyle. A 2020 study from the University of Southern California found that short-term changes in physical activity and sedentary behavior in response to COVID-19 can become permanently entrenched, leading to increased risk of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease in children.

Some scientists even fear that the sedentary lifestyle of the pandemic could have an impact on fertility. Sedentary behavior has been linked to an increase in leptin, which can decrease fertility and pregnancy rates. A 2016 study from the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health found that 90 minutes or more of aerobic physical activity per week resulted in a higher likelihood of a live birth in women undergoing fertility treatment compared to inactive women.

What can you do about it

Bringing physical activity back into your life is essential to combat the impacts of the COVID-19 sedentary lifestyle.

Graves recommended 30 minutes of moderately vigorous physical activity every day of the week.

“If you’re going for a walk for the sake of improving your health, you’ll want to walk at a brisk pace. The rule of thumb is if you are walking and breathing hard but can still carry on a conversation, this is probably the right level of intensity, ”Graves said.

At a bare minimum, Polsgrove said that even 10 to 15 minutes twice a week is enough to maintain your body’s fitness if you’re “just trying not to fall into decline.”

“You won’t feel like you’re exercising a lot, but at this point you’re just trying to keep things going a bit,” Polsgrove said.

Finding a way to exercise outdoors is also good for your mental health.

“The recommendation I would make is not to hesitate to go out and exercise just because it’s a little cold,” Graves said. “Just get ready. Dress for the weather. If you have a busy schedule, be sure to plan it because the days are getting shorter. The opportunity to get out in the daylight and exercise is reduced, but there are still things you can do and many nice facilities in Maine to participate in outdoor recreation in the winter.

Polsgrove noted that training with a mask can be a challenge for some people.

“There’s a whole other problem with wearing something on the face for cardiovascular activity,” Polsgrove said. “Personally, I can’t do it [because] I feel like I’m suffocating. Not only are you restricting the ability to breathe in and out air, but you are breathing your own air a lot more and you won’t get the same ripple effect.

There is also a lot you can do from the comfort of your home. Polsgrove recommended setting up a designated exercise space in your home, or doing a space setting ritual before starting your daily regimen. Small goals can also help, he said, as can training with a partner.

Polsgrove and Graves also recommended researching new types of workouts on YouTube and other online platforms to keep things interesting.

“Now might be a good time to start a yoga or tai chi or Pilates routine something like this, especially if it’s a little too cold and you don’t like going out in the cold.” said Graves. “There are a lot of things you can do in the comfort of your own home that are very healthy. “


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