Over the past few weeks, we’ve covered the impact that pre-existing conditions have on mortality rates with COVID-19, as well as strategies to improve your health during the lockdown. The increased case fatality rate for those with pre-existing conditions that contract COVID-19 is pretty widely known at this point in the pandemic. As is human nature, though, there is a tendency to overlook the pre-existing conditions we might have ourselves. As I covered in previous columns (which can be found on southstrandnews.com), some common pre-existing conditions that increase the case-fatality rate significantly include high blood pressure and diabetes. This is quite disturbing, considering the fact that around half of the U.S. population has high blood pressure.
So, now is perhaps one of the best times to look inwardly at your own lifestyle and health. While we wait for treatments to be studied and hopefully a vaccine to be developed, perhaps the best “medicine” you can take is a steady diet of exercise, fruits and vegetables, and portion control. While the last two columns covered diet strategies for losing weight during the lockdown, I now want to cover some exercise strategies you can employ even with no access to a gym or equipment.
Whether you find yourself on lockdown, working from home, or still working, never underestimate the utility of a well-paced walk. In columns past, I’ve reviewed the negative impact that prolonged sitting has on our health. And believe it or not, it has been suggested by the scientific evidence that sitting for >6 hours a day can negate the health benefits of regular exercise. So maintaining your overall activity, such as with a few, short, 10 minute walks throughout the day, can be key to maintaining and improving your health
Outside of this regular activity throughout the day, scheduled walks, in general, are a good practice for those who are just starting out exercising or have other predisposing injuries or ailments limiting more strenuous exercise. Make sure if you are walking for exercise, though, that you are maintaining as quick a pace as you are able. A good way to judge your effort during exercise is looking at how easily you are able to talk during it. If you can easily talk regularly without needing any extra breaths a few minutes into your walk, for example, it’s likely you should pick up the pace, unless an injury or other condition prevents it.
Besides walking, going for a run or biking are excellent forms of exercise. However, if you’re like me, long steady-state cardio becomes very boring very quickly. So, the protocol I like to use for either running or biking is interval training.
Interval training involves alternating periods of higher and lower intensity exercise. When performing intervals on my bike, with the resistance set to the highest level, I pedal as hard and fast as I can for fifteen full revolutions (fifteen pushes on each leg for thirty total) and then cruise without pedaling until I come to a near dead-stop. This completes one interval. Then I repeat, pushing as hard as I can again for fifteen full revolutions, cruise until I come to a near dead-stop and then begin pedaling again, and so on and so on. It usually takes me about eight intervals of this type to go around the 2-mile loop around our neighborhood, which I’ll do once or twice depending on the day. As I get more tired, I may add some slow pedaling in as I’m cruising for some extra rest before the next sprint. But this is just one way to do intervals.
Another way, for example, is to bike intensely for twenty to thirty seconds as fast or nearly as fast as you can, then perform 90 second of pedaling at a low, easy intensity. Do this eight times and I promise you’ll be breathing heavy and have a nice burn in your legs. This same strategy can be applied to running, by alternating sprints and slow jogging or walking. And really, if you haven’t been active in quite some time and are just trying to get used to walking for exercise, you can employ this same strategy. You can walk at a quickened pace for anywhere from ten to thirty seconds and then walk at a more comfortable pace for one to two minutes before performing another ten to thirty second burst again, and continuing to repeat.
Of course, with these recommendations, if you’ve been told not to engage in strenuous exercise by a doctor or have a chronic condition and haven’t discussed this type of exercise with your physician, don’t try and perform intervals until cleared by your physician.
Next week, we’ll cover ways you can perform resistance exercise to build muscle and increase strength while at home. To get started with strengthening for the purpose of improving your health at home, though, one of my favorites to prescribe is simply sitting down and standing up from a chair with good technique. You can easily add weight by holding a half-gallon, gallon, or even two gallons of water (in milk jugs). Check back next week as we examine strengthening strategies in more depth.
Nick McClary earned his doctor of physical therapy from the University of Tennessee. He also holds a masters in business administration. He is a native of Georgetown County and lives and works in Pawleys Island. Send him your health and fitness questions at: nmcclaryDPT@gmail.com.