Dr. Arun, G. Maiya, PhD, Dean, Manipal College of Health Professions, Professor, Dept. of Physiotherapy, MCHP, MAHE & Chief Coordinator: Centre for Diabetic Foot Care & Research
Covid-19 has emerged as a communicable disease worldwide. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) general public guidelines, people of all ages can be infected by the new coronavirus (2019-nCoV).
Older people and people with already existing medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes, or heart disease are at higher risk of becoming severely ill with this virus.
Following good hand hygiene and respiratory hygiene is of course very important for protecting yourself against the virus, but there is another thing that is highly essential, especially for the older population i.e. Physical Activity.
Why physical activity is required in the elderly population during the COVID 19 pandemic
Covid-19 is a disease that attacks your immune system. Elderly people already have a weakened immune system due to age, and they generally suffer from lifestyle diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure. There is a worrying trend observed among the older population. Physical activity remains low, people over the age of 65 are following a sedentary lifestyle. This could lead to a decrease in heart functions, a decrease in metabolism, bone and muscle mass, and poor quality of life. This must be avoided at any cost especially in the times we are living in.
Benefits of physical activity
- Protects complications arising from non-communicable diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, stroke, etc
- Maintains bone and joint health
- Normalises body composition i.e reduces the fat percentage and increases the muscle mass
- Physical activity improves mental and emotional well being and reduces the symptoms of depression and stress.
Tips on physical activity for the older population
- Practice deep breathing for about 5-10 minutes every day.
- Practice general body movements of all the joints of your body. Example: neck rolling, shoulder movements, wrist circles, fist opening and closing for fingers, ankle circles or up and down movements, toe-curling, hip-knee movements, etc
- If you have access to a terrace, utilize that for walking for about 15-20 minutes every day. You can also walk within the house premises like in the corridor/ Veranda or living room after making a few adjustments.
- If you do not have space for walking, instead you can practice “spot marching” (marching at one place) at your own pace for about 10-15 minutes every day.
Precautions to be taken while doing physical activities
- Avoid exercising early morning on an empty stomach, as it may decrease your sugar levels and leads to hypoglycemia
- After any intake of meal or medications, maintain a minimum 1-hour gap before you exercise.
- Start with a warm-up phase with a breathing exercise, stretching, followed by activity or aerobics phase (aerobic activities like walking, cycling, or activities to strengthen the muscles), then cool down phase with general stretching and breathing exercise.
- Identify the symptom of weakness, shakiness, abnormal sweating, anxiousness, sudden hunger, headache, tingling sensation in the mouth, and fingers, which is Indicative of low blood glucose levels. Listen to your body and STOP when it tells you to.
- If needed take the support of wall/ grill/ chair or bar while walking or performing any exercise
- Take your medicines on time as per physician advice and synchronize the exercise with medication.
How much physical activity is good for you?
The duration to perform physical activity depends upon a person’s age, their previous fitness levels, and any medical condition they may have e.g., diabetes, hypertension, or heart disease. It is good for elderly people to engage in low to moderate-intensity physical activity for at least 5 days in a week for 10-30 minutes initially and gradually progress to moderate to vigorous activity. Remember it is important to feel better after physical activity instead of feeling exhausted or tired. It is always good to consult your doctor and take their suggestions before starting an exercise regimen.
What the younger generation can do to help the older members of the family
- Give them a sense of purpose: Engage the older members in simple household activities like gardening, playing with the children, daily chores, help them develop a new skill. This will reduce negative thoughts from their minds and help them achieve a sense of belonging.
- Engage in exercise: Accompanying them during physical exercise activities can be a great way of ensuring the older members stay mobile. Exercising with music is known to have a positive effect on the elderly, especially when they are joined by family members
- If you are not staying with them, make sure to stay in touch through video calls at least once a day and enquire about their health and well-being. Encourage them to stay fit.
Finally, it is important to remember that taking up physical activities will take some time especially if you are above 60. If you cannot do them for 20 minutes every day, do not get discouraged.
Do whatever is possible, even five minutes of exercise is better than nothing. During the times of this pandemic, it is very easy to develop a sedentary lifestyle. But keep in mind your health should be a priority and physical activity will help you maintain it, so you live a long and happy life.