As the world stays at home, it is more important than ever that older people with chronic health conditions keep up a healthy level of physical activity. Fitbit recently released data showing a worldwide decrease in physical activity levels among users compared to the same time last year. This isn’t surprising as we have all been ordered to stay home, but for those with chronic health conditions, they must find ways of still staying active.
With the recent stay at home orders around the globe caused by the coronavirus epidemic, it’s no surprise that we’re all getting less exercise than what we are used to. Even day-to-day activities have been cut out of our lives which has reduced any “incidental exercise.” Everyone should be worried about the lack of exercise they are getting during this time, but those with chronic illnesses should be even more vigilant about trying to stay active.
Reduced physical activity can affect health in many ways, especially older people or those with illness. The reason why inactivity could be worse for some people is due to their cardiorespiratory fitness level. This level indicates overall health. It provides information on how effectively different systems in the body are working together, for example, how the lungs and heart transport oxygen to the muscles during activity.
The amount of physical activity that is done can influence cardiorespiratory fitness, along with age. Cardiorespiratory fitness generally peaks in our 20s and steadily declines as we get older. If we are inactive, cardiorespiratory fitness will decline more quickly.
The Importance of Physical Activity
One study that demonstrated the importance of physical activity analyzed 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 then tested 30 years later. It was found that three decades of normal aging had less effect on their cardiorespiratory fitness, an 11% reduction, than three weeks of bed rest.
This simple study demonstrates that even relatively short periods of inactivity can rapidly age the cardiorespiratory system. This is why it’s so important for people to stay active during this time, especially older adults and those with chronic health conditions such as heart disease or type 2 diabetes. A decrease in their physical activity can heighten the risk of health issues like heart disease stroke, or admission to the hospital.
There are many ways to stay physically active even when stuck at home, and many physicians are encouraging older people and those with chronic illnesses to stay active. Try to use any opportunity you have to get in some activity throughout the day. Try taking the stairs or walk around the house while talking on the phone.
Minimize prolonged periods of sedentary time by getting up and moving at least every 30 minutes. You can also try adding activity in your day by doing housework or gardening. The main goal is to try and keep moving as much as possible during this time.
Just keep in mind your level of fitness and don’t try any new exercises that you may not be familiar with. For those with diabetes, be sure to check your blood sugar levels before, during, and after you exercise. Also, for those with a heart condition, it is important to warm up and cool down properly and take adequate rests in between exercises.