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COVID-19 and physical activity

Note: This post is written by the team of The ONE Group (Oncology – Nutrition – Exercise) at Penn State College of Medicine as part of a first-person blog about their work. Learn more about the group here.

It’s been several months since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that COVID-19 is a global pandemic. Since then, we’ve all experienced a lot of changes: keeping our distance from people, washing our hands more than we did before, and wearing a mask like we’re superheroes. These are all behaviors we have taken on, or added to our daily lives. And we do it in the name of safety. We are trying to keep ourselves, and others, safe and healthy.

But what about one important behavior that we had been doing to keep ourselves healthy? Some studies are showing that the pandemic and living in lockdown has had negative effects on our physical activity levels. One study of step counts (received through a smartphone application) from around the world found that after the declaration that COVID-19 was a global pandemic, step counts started to decrease. In the United States, we reached a 15 percent decrease in step counts 15 days after the declaration. People are moving less as we are urged to stay in place and keep physically distant from others.

Being physically active has a lot of benefits for you. It improves your sleep, heart health, body composition, endurance, anxiety, stress level and well-being. Even more, physical inactivity has been found to be a lifestyle risk factor related to developing a severe case of COVID-19.

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) just released a Call to Action Statement, “COVID-19 Considerations for Sports and Physical Activity,” and it notes that being physically active is important for physical and mental health. Moderate to vigorous physical activity is shown to improve immune function, which is helpful at any time, but certainly is at the front of many people’s minds during this pandemic. The COVID considerations note that, like usual, individuals should aim to get 150 to 300 minutes a week of activity.

The reasons to be active are numerous, but it can be hard to get moving! Take it slow and set goals for yourself. Make a goal to add 10 minutes of walking (that’s about 1,000 steps) after dinner. Be a planner – tell yourself when you will add activity in (e.g., after dinner), how you will be active (e.g., walking), and how you will measure it (e.g., time). See if you can do that two to three times a week. When you meet your goals, revisit them and add a new one! You’ll be on your way to making physical activity a part of your life!.

The great thing about physical activity is that there are plenty of ways to do it and stay physically distant from others. Take a 10-minute dance break in your kitchen. Ride your bike, do some yoga or pilates in your living room, or take a walk outside. All of these are great options for adding a little bit of activy into your day. If you live in a crowded place and are going outside, put on a mask before you head out. Enjoy the time outdoors and remember that, just like wearing a mask, keeping a safe distance from others, and washing your hands, you’re adding in physical activity for your health.

If you are recovering from COVID-19, we send you our best wishes for a full recovery. Also, please check with your doctor about being physically active as your physical health may be altered from the disease.


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