Did you think isolation was going to last this long? We are going on 7 months of quarantine at some level or another. I certainly didn’t think it was going to last this long. Being isolated from our friends, extended family and coworkers does a number of things to our psychological health, but what about our bodies? Prioritizing your mental and physical health while staying home requires some work, but it’s a healthier coping mechanism for uncertainty than staying stationary until Covid-19 is no longer a threat, health experts say. And when it’s safe to live more freely again, you’ll be prepared to take advantage of it. Being stuck inside for a long time weakens the heart, lungs, and muscles as well as impairs our brain function. On top of that, the effects of isolation will stay with us long after the pandemic is over.
Here’s what happens to our bodies over months in isolation:
We start to lose muscle as quickly as within just one week of inactivity. Thanks, mother nature! According to a study done by Keith Baar (among others), a professor of molecular exercise physiology at the University of California – Davis, we lose muscle more quickly the older we get. And we don’t want that, because muscle strength and muscle mass is a strong indicator of longevity.
Respiratory system weakens
With less activity, our hearts and lungs get weaker. If we aren’t working out regularly, we aren’t getting our heart rates up, and the heart muscles get weaker. The same thing happens to our lungs according to Baar. Dr. Panagis Galiatsatos, a pulmonologist from Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center said many of his patients have felt their breathing function deteriorate because they’re no longer conditioned to exercise. This is a problem especially for people who are predisposed to respiratory illnesses because they are more susceptible to coronavirus. These people in particular need to get up and get moving which increases blood flow. “Not a single medication can do that,” Galiatsatos said. If it’s not safe to leave the house, Baar recommends dancing or finding household objects for home strength training — think milk jug deadlifts.
When we are working from home and avoiding all of our normal daily activities, we are closer to the kitchen, which makes it very easy to alleviate stress and boredom by downing a few extra cookies or other sweets. We’re sitting more, moving less, and burning fewer calories. If you’re feeling peckish, choose water or fruit and you’ll set your stomach at ease without contributing to weight gain.
Effects of posture
Your posture and body language directly affect your energy and mood. We are all sitting too much and probably on our screens significantly more than during a pre-covid day. Sit up straight! Better yet, get up every hour to stretch and walk around, do a few yoga poses… but make sure to walk away from the kitchen! Unless you want to get a healthy snack like fruit or a drink of water, I’ll allow that!
Daylight and vitamin D
Because we have been inside for the last 7 months a lot of us are suffering from a lack of Vitamin D which sustains bone density and keeps fatigue at bay. Getting enough sunlight in the morning helps us with our circadian rhythm. It is easy to increase our exposure to Vitamin D by going for walks, exercising outside, doing yard work, or just sit outside for 15 minutes each day.
Cognitive abilities decrease
Having a sedentary lifestyle can also slow down our brain. Exercise produces chemicals in the brain that help breaks down certain toxins in the blood and prevents them from going to the brain where they kill brain cells, says Keith Baar. Not exercising also means you won’t be breaking down amino acid byproducts that become toxins in our brains.
The problem is that the effects of isolation like the pandemic are insidious, we don’t see the symptoms creeping up on us. But we can change that by getting into action before it is too late!
How can we turn it around?
First, we need some sort of stability. We may be all over the map trying different things to alleviate the fear, boredom, and depression associated with uncertain times. Here are some ways to bolster and give yourself some structure every day.
Certainty, change, and control
The only thing we’re sure about is that we don’t know for sure how long the pandemic will last! This brings to mind the great Greek philosopher Heraclitus (wikipedia) quote: “the only constant in life IS change”. One thing you can always control is your own mind, your own reaction to what’s going on outside of you. Mindfulness and internal attention is always available to you. See whether you can re-open the lines of communication between your body and brain, like noticing the urge to sit down after a morning of chores, or noticing your muscles feeling stiff after a few hours on the couch. Those are natural cues saying rest, stretch, or move, don’t ignore them. Try having a cup of coffee or tea at the same time each morning. Don’t sleep in! Listen to a favorite or new podcast with many episodes that you can enjoy and look forward to the next one, or maybe try doing some easy yoga stretches every morning.
Self-expression and communication
There has been an uptick in crafting, tie-dye, bread baking, and journaling. These are all healthy, fun, and excellent forms of self-expression. During our normal lives, we usually are driving ourselves so hard, we don’t take time to do these fun things. Use this time of quarantine to indulge in a little self-expression. Try using your words! Spend some time reaching out to people you love and telling them you appreciate them or miss them. Sending or receiving a heartfelt email or text can do wonders for your mood. Try not to set any expectations on the correspondence, like asking questions or otherwise putting pressure on anyone for a response. Just knowing that someone cares and is thinking about them is enough.
In times of uncertainty, it is easy to gravitate toward comfort foods because they are more acceptable than carrying around your teddy bear from childhood. But that tactic can backfire. It doesn’t mean we can eat ourselves into oblivion. That will only cause more anxiety down the road when you try on your favorite jeans and they are snug or you realize that what used to feel like an easy hike is starting to feel like a chore. Eat healthy, vitamin-rich foods, stay away from sugar and over-processed foods that have empty calories. Also limit your alcohol intake, there’s no need for a hangover! If you need a nap in the afternoon, do it. If you have a pet, spend extra time snuggling, or when your children are spinning out of control, maybe instead of scolding them it might be a signal they need to be comforted too. So, snuggle away! It doesn’t matter if they are snarky teenagers like mine. Someday they won’t be there to hug, so hold them while you can. We all need the human touch.
We haven’t been in our normal circle of work or friends and we may not be getting the usual pats on the back or compliments that we all need once in a while. Validation doesn’t always have to be based on looks, of course, we all have strengths and qualities that are unique to us. Make a list of your favorite 10 qualities. Read them every day in the morning for a quick pick me up. You can take this a step further especially if your partner and children are trying your last nerve during the quarantine. Make a list of their qualities and read them every day too!
Here for you
As always, I’m here for you and ready to listen and learn together how we can all adapt and overcome during times of change. You know where to find me on Facebook, Instagram, or here. Drop me a comment, schedule a call with me anytime, and stay tuned for more supportive articles and posts. I’m teaching fun, effective classes appropriate for whatever mood you are in, from high-intensity circuit workouts to restorative Pilates or stretching classes. Stay safe and stay healthy!
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From Psychology Today: