Move more to stay healthy
The lockdowns imposed by countries around the world to stop the spread of COVID-19 have brought about even more health-related problems—from depression to aggravating the state of those already with comorbidities. Here’s another one: According to a new study, the sedentary lifestyle resulting from having to stay home to avoid spreading or contracting the virus increases the risk of death for those who get infected.
“Patients with COVID-19 who were consistently inactive during the 2 years preceding the pandemic were more likely to be hospitalised, admitted to the intensive care unit and die than patients who were consistently meeting physical activity guidelines,” the study, published this week in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, stated.
Researchers studied 48,440 adult COVID-19 patients who were infected from Jan. 1, 2020 to Oct. 21, 2020, and linked their self-reported physical activity to the risk of hospitalization, ICU admission, and death after the diagnosis. They noted that physical inactivity was the strongest risk factor for severe COVID-19 outcomes, other than a COVID-19 patient’s advanced age and a history of organ transplant: “… [E]ven those doing some physical activity had lower risks for severe COVID-19 outcomes including death than those who were consistently inactive.”
Per the World Health Organization (WHO), a sedentary lifestyle increases all causes of mortality, doubling the risk of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and obesity. It also increases the risks of colon cancer, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, and lipid disorders, among others.
These findings should be a concern to Filipinos, considering that the top three causes of death in the Philippines last year were ischemic heart diseases (17.3 percent), cancer (10.8 percent), and cerebrovascular diseases (10.4 percent)—conditions caused by, among others, poor health habits including lack of physical activity.
Sedentary lifestyles among Filipinos have already been a problem even before the government imposed severe lockdowns last year. The United Nations Interagency Task Force on the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases had pointed out that in 2015, around 43 percent of Filipino adults were insufficiently physically active, making them more prone to coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and breast and colon cancer. In 2016, global nutrition company Herbalife revealed in its Nutrition at Work Survey that 85 percent of workers in the Philippines spend at least six hours a day sitting at their desk, 52 percent eat lunch at their work desk two to five times per week, and 86 percent exercise less than three times per week, with five out of 10 getting less than 30 minutes of physical activity a day at their workplace. In another study published in November 2019, this time by the WHO, Filipino teens ranked second as the most physically inactive in the world.
Among the reasons cited by these studies on the Filipinos’ lack of physical activity were mobile phone addiction, lack of public or green spaces, and poor urban and transport planning, which favors cars and urban structures like malls and condominiums instead of sidewalks, sporting facilities, or cycle paths.
The imposition of severe lockdowns beginning March last year that limited the movement of people and forced them to stay at home only worsened the predicament of Filipinos who already lacked enthusiasm for physical exercise. But even if the lockdown was eased and people were allowed to go out, the lack of parks and public spaces where they could go and still be able to maintain the required physical distance remains a problem, especially in Metro Manila.
Since last year, advocates have been calling for more permanent bike lanes—biking having become the preferred mode of transport during the lockdown—as well as safer sidewalks. Instead of the hazardous and impractical dolomite beach along Roxas Boulevard, the government could have invested more in parks and open spaces where people suffering from cabin fever could unwind or exercise.
The launch in May last year of the home fitness campaign “Wais Papawis” hardly made the news. This was a project by the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) and the Department of Health to promote a healthy lifestyle amid the limitations of the community quarantines. Easy-to-follow videos of exercises are still available on the Facebook pages of PSC, DOH, and Healthy Pilipinas. “Alam po natin lahat na part of increased resistance sa mga sakit or to improve our immune system is to engage ourselves in physical exercise,” reminded PSC national training director Marc Velasco. “Kahit po sa bahay natin, sa sala natin, sa kwarto natin, we can do these very basic simple exercises. Ugaliin natin to maintain a healthy lifestyle, do exercise, eat healthy food, and have a good rest [to have a better chance at fighting COVID-19].”
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