Research shows simple way to shake the pandemic blues

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Remaining active is the key to good health and exercise is the key to healthy ageing. Beyond Blue says keeping active can help lift mood, improve sleeping patterns, increase energy levels and block negative thoughts.

And exercise is even more important during the pandemic.

“With the elderly and vulnerable being advised to stay at home during the COVID-19 crisis, the importance of staying active has never been greater,” says Professor Ken Nosaka from Edith Cowan University.

“Older people, in particular, are at risk of physical decline and a lack of regular exercise could lead to a litany of problems including reduced muscle strength, issues with coordination, balance, flexibility and mobility, and decreased cardiovascular and respiratory functions – all of which can make people more susceptible to ill-health.

“The home could be an ideal place for exercises to make all people, including older people, healthier and fitter and improve immune function to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection. Some quick and easy exercises can be done from the comfort of home, requiring no equipment and just a bit of motivation.”

Prof. Nosaka’s quick YouTube tutorials include exercises you can perform from your chair. The Baker Institute has a simple infographic that demonstrates seven do-it-at-home exercises. Endurance, balance, strength and flexibility are the goals of the National Institute on Ageing advice on getting started with exercise. The Australian Physiotherapy Association endorses the safe exercise at home website.

But while we can help ourselves with the use of such resources, experts say the health system must also step up to ensure the health of older citizens.

In a paper in the Journal of Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine (JAMDA), Melbourne University associate professor of physiotherapy Cathy Said and colleagues write that it is “imperative” health professionals discuss remaining physically active with older people and support them to incorporate physical activity into their day.

Assoc. Prof. Said says telehealth must be used to provide individualised programs. Where this is not possible, access to online and hard copy information is vital.

“Some simple strategies that can promote engagement with exercise can include planning a time to exercise, checking in with a family member or friend about your exercise plans, and tracking exercise using either an exercise diary or activity tracker,” they write.

“Many people may be daunted by the physical activity guidelines, particularly if they have not exercised regularly in the past. It is, therefore, important to reassure people that even small amounts of physical activity and exercise are better than nothing, and that it is good to start slowly and gradually increase your activity levels, particularly if you have been inactive.”

The current recommendation is for “at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity on most, and preferably all, days of the week”.

Hints for staying active during the pandemic.

Getting started (from beyondblue.org.au)

Start simple
Build your confidence with basic activities such as walking, gardening or small household tasks.

Do what is enjoyable
Given the current climate, people may lose interest and pleasure in doing things they once enjoyed. Plan activities that are enjoyable, interesting, relaxing or satisfying where possible.

Include other people
Staying connected with friends and family is tricky in some states at the moment, but you can still do so virtually, which helps increase wellbeing and confidence.

Make a plan
Planning a routine can help people become more active – make sure some form of exercise is included each day. Try to stick to the plan as closely as possible, but be flexible.

Exercising while watching your screen (from safeexerciseathome.org)

  • Only have one exercise on your screen at a time.
  • Exercise at your own pace. Don’t try to keep up with the exercise demonstrator.
  • Balance exercises must be done safely. If needed, use a bench, table or sturdy chair next to you or in front, and a wall close behind to steady you.
  • Listen to your body. If an exercise causes you pain, discomfort or you feel unsteady or unsafe, either modify the exercise (e.g. do an easier version, hold on for balance support) or leave it out. Seek advice, if you need, from an exercise specialist (physiotherapist/exercise physiologist).
  • Have someone else nearby when you exercise if possible, especially for the first time (respecting any social distancing recommendations). Alternatively keep your phone in reach if you live alone.
  • Start any new exercise slowly and carefully. If there is a video, watch the video before you try the exercise. If the exercise has an ‘easy’ and a ‘hard’ option, try the easy option first.
  • If you are doing a live online class (e.g. one run by a health professional or exercise instructor) make sure you can see the instructor and they can see you. It may be distracting if you can also see other people exercising.

At your desk or computer (from exerciseismedicine.org)

  • Get up every 30 minutes or so and stretch. Walk down the hallway. A smart phone Stand Up Reminder app can help. On the phone? Stand or walk around.
  • When watching TV, get up during every commercial and do an active chore. For example, empty the dishwasher, throw some clothes in the laundry or take out the garbage. Feel productive after just one show.
  • Use stairs whenever you can.
  • Reduce time in front of the TV, computer and on video games (unless you’re moving). Try other fun activities or finish home projects instead.
  • If you can’t walk or stand, try seated knee lifts, kicks, foot slides, punches or arm circles.

Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity every week. Fit in two, five, 10 or 20 minutes where you can. Being active however and wherever you will benefit your health.

Do you need help getting your exercise regime going?

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Written by Will Brodie



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