Manitoba’s strict Covid-19 lockdown measures that were in place for several months could affect the long-term health of its residents according to research done by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR).
According to the CIHR, working from home and the closure of gyms and organized sports activities is beginning to lead to detrimental health impacts which could lead to chronic disease.
Dr. Laura N. Anderson, Associate Professor in Public Health at McMaster University and a member of the CIHR says that reduced physical activity brought on by closed fitness centres and working from home can have lasting impacts on ones health.
“We know that physical activity is really important for both physical health as well as mental health and we know that physical inactivity, so not getting enough physical activity, is a risk factor for many different chronic conditions such as obesity and diabetes and cardiovascular disease, which are some of the main chronic conditions that contribute to diseases in Canda. The concern is that as physical activity levels decrease we worry that after the pandemic people might not increase their physical activity levels again. If their physical activity levels stay low for too long we worry about the long-term consequences of that,” said Anderson.
Anderson says that the lack of activity due to lockdowns affected all age groups and the increased screentime is another factor in the problem.
“Most diseases happen later in life in older adults, but we know that the accumulation of risk can start early on. In children, it’s really important that we develop healthy habits and healthy physical activity behaviors so we can set children on patterns of good health throughout their life. The impact of reduced physical activity will depend on different ages and groups in the population.
“We do have some Canadian data already from the pandemic that suggests that in children there has been a dramatic decrease in physical activity coupled with an increase in time sitting in front of screens. We also have data on adults that suggest that upwards of 40 per cent of Canadians have reduced their physical activity during the pandemic and 60 to 70 per cent of adults have said that they’re spending more time in front of screens.”
Among the most impacted by having to work from home and the closure of organized fitness programs and gyms are caregivers and the elderly.
Anderson explains that caregivers working from home that need to care for their children have difficulty finding time to exercise and engage in physical activity.
“We don’t have all of the data yet to know who is the most affected by this but we can imagine that there are different impacts at different ages and different reasons why people may be getting less physical activity. We know that parents, especially women, are really suffering under the extra burden of caregiving responsibilities through the pandemic and I can imagine that they may be having a harder time finding time for physical activity.
“We also know that for older adults, especially those who are in long-term care or living in retirement communities, most of the organized activities that they may have participated in prior to the pandemic have been put on hold. So that may have a real impact. In older adults, we worry about falls and fractures and keeping up their muscle and bone strength. So there are different conditions between older adults and young adults but it’s still a concern for both.”
There are ways to remain active while having to work from home, Anderson notes.
She says that small activities, from standing up and stretching to going for a walk when possible, are easy ways to engage in physical activity.
Other at-home ways to remain active can include situps, pushups, squats, and planking.
“It can just be small steps that you take to start to get moving more. Whether it’s standing up occasionally or making sure that you walk up and down the stairs, or if you can go for a walk down the street between meetings, or making sure that you set a timer to get up more often. Another strategy is to develop routines where your family goes for a walk after work or before work,” said Anderson.
Diet is another concern of Anderson’s.
She says that while working from home, there often is the temptation to snack on comfort foods which often include sugary or fatty foods.
“We have seen a large proportion of people reporting increased amounts that they’re eating and increased unhealthy foods. People are eating a lot more comfort foods. It could be snack foods, sugary foods, or sweetened drinks. This is a concern and something that will have long-term impacts. We are starting to see some data that suggest a substantial proportion of Canadians have gained weight through the pandemic and it’s something that is challenging,” said Anderson.
She says that it is also important to be mindful of what is being ate and encourages healthy choices where possible.
“The most important thing is to try to be more mindful of what you’re eating and when you’re eating. Every time you go to reach into the cupboard, think to yourself ‘am I really hungry, or is there another need I’m trying to fill?’. Try going for a walk before eating that bag of chips because you might realize that maybe you weren’t hungry but just bored or stressed.”
While Manitoba’s Covid-19 measures may be strict and gyms may be closed, Anderson says that mindful decisions can prevent chronic diseases.
She says that while the research is beginning to show the potential long-term impacts of not being able to do physical activity, it’s not too late to start making healthier choices.
“It’s not too late. You can still start to develop a strategy and start getting active during the pandemic and taking steps to reduce long-term chronic disease risk by increasing your physical activity. Small steps help,” concluded Anderson.
Spencer Kemp, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The World-Spectator