Three ways older Hamiltonians can stay fit during a COVID winter

·3 min read

Marilyn Hill, 80, and Joyce King, who turned 91 in December, are Hamilton seniors fond of physical exercise.

Hill is a member of the YWCA’s 55+ Active Living Centre, where she’d participate in group fitness, line dancing, and square dancing classes. King was a regular at the Ryerson Recreation Centre all year round.

But with in-person classes closed while Hamilton is in full lockdown, older residents will need to find other ways to keep up physical activity this winter.

“We all seem to know and have done for years that exercise is really good for us,” said Dr. James McKendry, a McMaster University post-doctoral research fellow in kinesiology. “One of the things we tend to be less aware of is how damaging physical inactivity ... can be.”

Thankfully, there are plenty of ways to maintain health right from home this winter.

1. Reduce Sitting Time

A McMaster study published in 2017 found that adults over age 65 who had fewer daily steps than 1,500 — about how much activity people would be getting at home during the pandemic — for two weeks experienced a drop in their insulin by up to one-third, as well as a loss of up to four per cent of their leg muscle.

The dangers of physical inactivity can impact younger people, too, but it’s easier for them to “bounce back.”

“It’s much more difficult for an older individual to regain that lost muscle. It really is a case of use it or lose it,” McKendry said.

The World Health Organization updated its guidelines for physical activity at the end of November, recommending all adults get 150 to 300 minutes of “moderate to vigorous aerobic activity per week,” including for people with chronic conditions or disability.

The guidelines also recommended adults over age 65 perform activities which enhance balance and coordination and build muscle strength, to reduce the likelihood of falls.

McKendry recommends taking breaks between sitting to do some form of physical activity, like getting up to do the laundry for example.

“Older individuals are likely going to be spending a little bit more time sedentary than younger individuals,” he said. “Doing something is better than nothing, and doing more is likely going to have even further health benefits.”

2. Find Exercises to do Around the House

While winter makes many people want to stay indoors, it also poses its own opportunities for exercise: shovelling.

King bundles up to shovel snow off her double driveway, and sometimes does her neighbours’, too.

“I walk as much as I can,” she added. “If it’s slippery out there, I don’t.”

She also likes dancing in her basement for at least an hour every week.

But for those who’d rather not venture outside, Hill said she joins the YWCA’s online fitness classes for Zumba, Pilates, and yoga classes. The city also offers free programming over the phone through the Seniors’ Centre Without Walls, including social and fitness activities.

McKendry said even simple activities around the house can help, like stair climbing or squats (mobility permitting), including for those working from home.

3. Eat Protein and Avoid Vitamin Deficiency

As far as food is concerned, McKendry emphasizes the importance of eating protein in the winter to protect muscles.

It can be either animal or plant-based protein, he said, recommending 25 to 40 grams per meal — the equivalent size of one to two palms.

Vitamin D has become something of a hot topic recently since research suggests COVID-19 patients with deficiencies were more likely to experience worse effects of the virus.

“For most people, avoiding deficiency rather than optimizing the amount is important, so just making sure you’ve got some vitamin D is definitely going to help,” McKendry said.

He noted that besides going outside, some fortified cereals and dairy products may also be sources of the vitamin. He recommends consulting a doctor before starting any supplements.

Maria Iqbal, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator