Staying active at home is important – here’s how

Wednesday, 15 April 2020

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has brought many changes to our lives including the requirement to stay at home. But while we’re at home many of us aren’t staying active and moving as much as we normally would.

That’s because we’re getting less of the “incidental exercise” we’d normally get from going about our day-to-day activities, and many of our routine exercise options have been curtailed.

While we don’t know for sure how long our lifestyles will be affected in this way, we do know periods of reduced physical activity can affect our health.

This places older people and those with chronic conditions like type 2 diabetes are greater risk of illness.

Cardiorespiratory fitness

To understand why the consequences of inactivity could be worse for some people, it’s first important to understand the concept of cardiorespiratory fitness.

Cardiorespiratory fitness provides an indication of our overall health. It tells us how effectively different systems in our body are working together, for example how the lungs and heart transport oxygen to the muscles during activity.

The amount of physical activity we do influences our cardiorespiratory fitness, along with our age. Cardiorespiratory fitness generally peaks in our 20s and then steadily declines as we get older. If we’re inactive, our cardiorespiratory fitness will decline more quickly.

As we get older, our cardiorespiratory fitness declines.

One study looked at five young healthy men who were confined to bed rest for three weeks. On average, their cardiorespiratory fitness decreased 27% over this relatively short period.

These same men were tested 30 years later. Notably, three decades of normal ageing had less effect on cardiorespiratory fitness (11% reduction) than three weeks of bed rest.

This study demonstrates even relatively short periods of inactivity can rapidly age the cardiorespiratory system.

But the news isn’t all bad. Resuming physical activity after periods of inactivity can restore cardiorespiratory fitness, while being physically active can slow the decline in cardiorespiratory fitness associated with normal ageing.

Staying active at home

Generally, older people and those who live with chronic conditions (like heart disease or type 2 diabetes) have lower cardiorespiratory fitness compared to younger active adults.

This can increase the risk of health issues like developing another heart issue, stroke or admission to hospital.

Six tips to keep you moving

While we’ve been encouraged to stay home during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s still possible for this group to remain physically active. Here are some tips:

  1. Set a regular time to exercise each day – when you wake up, before lunch or in the afternoon so it becomes routine.
  2. Aim to do 30 minutes of exercise on most days. It doesn’t have to all be done at once and can be spread across the day (for example, in three ten-minute sessions)
  3. Use your phone to track your activity. See how many steps you do in a “typical” day during social distancing, then try to increase that number by 100 steps per day.
  4. Take any opportunity to add activity to your day. Take the stairs if you can, or walk around the house while talking on the phone.
  5. Minimise periods of sitting by getting up and moving every 30 minutes. For example during the TV ad breaks.
  6. Incorporate additional activity into your day through housework and gardening.

If you’re looking for some inspiration on different types of exercise and how you can fit them into you day check out our factsheet on physical activity.

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