Impact of Being Sedentary due to COVID-19

I don’t need to remind anyone of all the lifestyle changes we’ve had to make over the past few months. Everyone has had to make different changes depending on your particular habits, but we all can relate to the common theme of being able to do less. We definitely are spending more time at home, less time in the gym, and less time being active in general.

Because of this, we’re seeing a difference in our ability to stay fit and healthy. A lot of how we know this is based on how we feel. Personally, I feel like I haven’t been as healthy as I’d like because I can’t play in my soccer leagues anymore and I haven’t been able to go to the gym at all. It’s hard to measure being less active and healthy, but that’s what research is for! There was an article published in the European Journal of Sports Science on May 12th, 2020 that looks at this exact topic. The authors review the impact of being sedentary due to COVID-19. Even better, they also provide some recommendations for how to combat the effects of being more sedentary. I’m going to do a bird’s eye review of this article and help outline their tips for physical activity and nutrition.

The first thing this article talks about is how we can lose muscle strength very quickly if we are totally inactive. You can see these changes after just 2 days of total bedrest. Thankfully, we are not on total bedrest. Even if we are confined to our homes and are only able to leave the house for groceries or a walk in the neighborhood, that is still a great way to maintain some muscle strength. Combine that with some structured exercise and you can definitely prevent muscle loss during this time at home.

The article also looks at some more specific topics like blood sugar levels and how people with conditions like diabetes or heart disease should especially take action to stay healthy during this time. Decreased activity has a direct effect on our bodies blood sugar levels and our cardiovascular fitness. One thing they found is that most of us are getting a lot fewer steps each day. I usually aim to get 10,000 steps on a normal day, but recently that is not even a remote possibility. I find that by the time I finish doing some work in the afternoon I’m lucky if I‘ve done 1,000 steps. This article recommends that you aim for at least 5,000 steps each day, which is much more manageable in my opinion. If possible, try getting outside and go for a walk, jog, or hike. Mixing it up and trying different ways to keep moving will help make it easier to get your steps in each day. By doing this you will help keep your blood sugar more regular and even help maintain your cardiovascular system.

Finally, the article also talks about nutrition and how we need to strike the balance between eating enough without overeating. I found it really interesting that they mention it is common for people in very stressed environments to actually under eat. People who are sick or have a very strict home confinement situation may feel so stressed that their diet is suppressed. Personally, that is how I felt at the start of quarantine. Things were changing so fast and we had no control over it. I found myself not hungry or getting full after just a few bites of dinner, which is highly unusual for me. It’s definitely gotten closer to normal now, but I still feel my diet has changed the past few months.

The other side of this is the group of people who are finding themselves much less active, bored, and with a free time to snack and eat more. Since we have been social distancing you might have started watching more Netflix, reading, or just relaxing around your home. If you combine that with your normal eating habits, you may start to gain weight or lose some of the fitness you were maintaining. The article states people are seeing 35-40% less energy expenditure than they usually do. This basically means we are burning a lot less calories and if we don’t make a slight adjustment to our intake, we will probably gain some weight. The article recommends reducing your daily intake by about 15% or so. Of course this will vary person to person so ask for help if you’re not sure what you should be doing!

Overall I found this article to be really interesting and practical for making some lifestyle changes that will help keep us healthy during this time of quarantine. The big takeaways I found were:

  1. Exercise at least 30 minutes each day
  2. Take at least 5,000 steps each day and getting outside can be helpful to do this
  3. If you’ve been really stressed and lack appetite, make sure you’ve been eating enough
  4. If you feel you’ve been overeating, try reducing your daily intake by 15%
  5. Stay positive and optimistic! Things will get better and return to normal

Keep these tips in mind and please let us know if you have any questions or concerns on how to use this information!

Here is the article citation for reference:
Narici M, De Vito G, Franchi M, et al. Impact of sedentarism due to the COVID-19 home confinement on neuromuscular, cardiovascular and metabolic health: Physiological and pathophysiological implications and recommendations for physical and nutritional countermeasures [published online ahead of print, 2020 May 12]. Eur J Sport Sci. 2020;1‐22. doi:10.1080/17461391.2020.1761076

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