By: Dr. Beth Templin
One of the things I was most concerned about as we entered this COVID pandemic was the domino effect it would have on people's health and mobility. I knew people would be confined to their homes, resulting in less daily activity.
A recent publication put some solid numbers behind my concern. It is alarming to me just how quickly you can experience muscle declines! The data shows that you can see muscle loss within two days of decreasing your activity level. It was found that people experience a 6% loss of muscle mass after just 10 days of decreased activity and a 10% loss after 30 days! These findings were similar across all age groups!
St. Louis County's "stay-at home" order began over 3 months ago. Even though restrictions are slowly being lifted, many of our clients have already experienced these muscle declines firsthand. We've heard reports of increased difficulty with day to day activities like going up and down stairs or getting up from a seated position. Some of our folks have had an increase in the number of falls over the last few months.
Without the help of a structured program, it can take several months to recover loss muscle mass following prolonged inactivity. This is why it may be appropriate to seek out Physical Therapy if you or a loved one has experienced these declines.
Another worry with inactivity is decreased endurance, or your aerobic capacity. Your aerobic capacity can easily be measured by the number of steps you take each day. You'll notice a decline in your endurance when you tire sooner than you used to. Consider a recent trip to the grocery store. Did you notice it wore you out? A 14% endurance loss was noted in just two weeks of decreased activity in those 60 and older!
This decrease is tied to a higher mortality rate, which is why it's so important to keep moving. A general guideline is to walk at least 5,000 steps each day.
A third major change noted with decreased activity is higher fat deposition, meaning your body is holding onto more fat. You are consuming the same amount of calories each day, but burning less because you aren't as active.
What you can do: There is a two-fold approach to decrease these losses while you are still staying at home more these days.
Step 1: Increase your activity. Participate in strength training. Even without special equipment, you can use regular household objects to create a routine to keep you strong and healthy. See our exercise of the month on page 3 for ideas.
Start a walking program to increase the number of steps you take daily. Even if you don't have a step counter, aim for walking 30 minutes each day.
Step 2: Adjust your diet. While you are less active, decrease your calorie intake accordingly. Try eating a larger breakfast with a smaller lunch and dinner. Focus on getting more protein which helps your body keep the current muscle mass. This will not only support your strength, but it will minimize excess fat accumulation, which can lead to other medical issues.
Dr. Beth helps adults 55+ maximize their independence and fitness, so they can continue to enjoy a full and active life.