Posted on Sep 23, 2020, 5 p.m.
Even before the current mandates and restrictions, researchers were investigating what happens to your health when you are stuck at home with fewer opportunities to exercise.
“A lot of work has been done on complete bed rest or immobilization, but little attention has focused on how acute periods of limited activity affect older adults,” says Chris McGlory, assistant professor of exercise metabolism at Queen’s University in Canada.
In this study, 22 older, overweight, prediabetes patients cut back on their usual daily steps from 7,000 to 1,000 for a period of two weeks, and then returned to their normal activity levels for another two weeks.
“We tried to mimic the number of steps someone would take, say, when they stay at home because there’s a flu outbreak or because it’s too cold to go outside, so they’re physically inactive for a number of weeks,” says McGlory.
Findings showed that during the inactive period “we found an increase in insulin resistance and blood sugar and a decrease in the rate at which muscle proteins were created,” says McGlory. “And none of those things were fully recovered after the two-week period when they returned to their usual activity.”
“If you start off without prediabetes, you’d shift toward the prediabetic state, and if you have prediabetes, you’d shift toward the diabetic state,” says McGlory.
Among Americans aged 65+ an estimated 47% have prediabetes and another 27% have diabetes, meaning that most older people have already shifted to a prediabetic state, and when it comes to muscles older people are also at a disadvantage.
“After the fourth or fifth decade of life, we start to lose 1 to 2 percent of our muscle mass per year,” says McGlory. “And during a period of inactivity, you lose muscle whether you’re young or old. So inactivity combined with the biological loss of muscle is a double whammy for older people.”
Seniors do not regenerate lost muscle as well as they once did, so they will not recover as well as younger people. McGlory notes that the odds are that the participants would have returned to normal if the study lasted longer, but it is not clear how long that would have taken.
Studies show that staying as active as possible for as long as possible, especially with exercises that build strength will help in both short and long term health.
“If you have stairs in your home, walk up and down to keep up your daily step count,” suggests McGlory. Climbing stairs is ideal because it’s both aerobic and strength exercises. “You can also do squats and go for a daily walk or jog or cycle within safety guidelines for avoiding coronavirus.”
Additionally, if you are stuck at home a quick google search will provide pages of listings for videos and apps to use at home to exercise ranging from yoga, to HIIT, tai chi to dance fit, and strength training to resistance band toning and many more options to help prevent sarcopenia.
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This article is not intended to provide medical diagnosis, advice, treatment, or endorsement.