John Tolley, April 13, 2020

Likely you've heard it all. You've seen the memes espousing America's rediscovered love of sweatpants. You've heard others gripe about the "Quarantine 15", the apt named for the weight gain that seems inevitable with staying home. You may even have thought about going (gasp!) outside for a little exercise yourself.

The truly patriotic, humanitarian and civic-minded thing to do right now is to limit travel and social distance as much as possible. But the quarantine has led - or forced - many to abandon their exercise and activities. That comes at a cost, says University of Iowa professor and physiologist Lucas Carr.

Recently we spoke with Carr via email about the detrimental effects of being sedentary and how we can all find time to get out bodies moving and our hearts pumping while keeping safe.

(This interview has been edited for clarity and length.)


Without being certain, it seems like we're all moving less under quarantine. What are the ramifications of being sedentary?

Many researchers (including one of our current graduate students) are asking this same question as it is unclear if we are moving more or less while under quarantine. There are many negative consequences of excessive sedentary behavior including an increased risk of several chronic diseases (heart disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer), increased risk of early death, increased joint pain, and an impaired immune system function which is very relevant today.

For more helpful tips: EIM_Rx for Health_ Staying Active During Coronavirus Pandemic

Most recognize the value of exercise in burning calories and improving cardiovascular health. What are some of the overlooked benefits that people might not immediately think of?

In addition to the health benefits that regular physical activity has on our heart, muscles, and even brain function?regular physical activity can help reduce feelings of stress, anxiety and depression. There is evidence that regular physical activity is also associated with a better immune function. Importantly, these benefits are achievable for everyone regardless of current health status, gender or age. And in fact, those who are least healthy (and, consequently, at greatest risk for severe COVID-19 responses) have the most to gain from maintaining an active lifestyle.

 

University of Iowa professor Lucas Carr

Do we all need to be clocking 30 minutes a day of intense cardio or does consistent, lower-intensity exercise carry the same benefits?

The new Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans suggest all physical activity is beneficial regardless of intensity. Certainly those who can safely engage in moderate to vigorous intensity activity should do so. But if light physical activity is all you are able to achieve, there are health benefits that come from this. Essentially?some is good, more is better.

 

During an average quarantine day, how often do we need to be getting off the couch and stretching our legs? And, for how long?

The Physical Activity Guidelines suggest we engage in 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity each week or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity each week. Individuals are encouraged to limit their sitting time as much as possible. My message to folks is to listen to your body. If you feel pain or stiffness from too much sitting, get up and move around. Even walking breaks of 2 minutes are associated with benefits (reduced pain, improved alertness).  Limiting prolonged sitting to less than 60 minutes would be a good rule of thumb.

 

OK, let's say the weather is less-than-optimal for going out. What are some good exercises people can practice around the house?

If exercising outdoors, people should be sure to maintain social distancing rules. If the outdoors are not an option, consider workout videos that you can follow along. Many can be found for free on YouTube. There are also several good free apps that you can download on your device. The American Council on Exercise also has some good instructional videos to teach people how to perform exercises properly.

You can also do weight bearing exercises like jumping jacks, pushups, squats, sit-ups, calf raises. I use resistance bands in my home which are low cost and very adaptable to many types of exercises. Other options include turning on music and dancing, playing active video games with the kids, and even going up and down the stairs 2-3 times per day.

 

Do you foresee, as a sort of silver-lining, that people may emerge from this more in touch with their minds and bodies and more apt to play an active role in their own overall health?

I certainly hope so. I see many people out walking and biking. I suspect many are those who were previously going to the gym, but perhaps some previously inactive folks are now doing this for the reasons you mentioned. There is good data suggesting health benefits from simply being outside and in nature. A silver-lining of any sort would be more than welcomed right now.