Limited Access to Facilities During COVID + What’s Currently Available
Edited by: Temi Toba-Oluboka
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that adults achieve 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise, or a combination of both throughout the week (1,2). To achieve optimal health benefits, the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines recommend that adults achieve at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity aerobic physical activity per week, in periods of at least 10 minutes. Benefits can also be achieved by adding strength training at least twice weekly. The latter is also supported by the WHO (3,4). Examples of moderate activity include brisk walking and biking, while examples of vigorous activity include jogging and cross-country skiing. Physical activity can help reduce the chance of developing over 25 chronic ailments in adulthood, including cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease (5). The Canadian guidelines stress reducing sedentary activity to 8 hours or less per day, even if you cannot go for a run, it is still advised to get up frequently and break up sitting as much as possible (3,6). This should be extended beyond the pandemic to include daily activities and work. Being sedentary is associated with depression, poor mental and physical health. Prior to the emergence of COVID only 1 in 5 Canadians attained the recommended level of activity, which declines with age (7).
The impact of Coronavirus
To curb the spread of COVID many gyms, fitness facilities and various organized sports have been closed, cancelled, or have had restrictions imposed. This has made it challenging for many to achieve their fitness goals or just stay physically active. Research has found being confined to your home has resulted in a reduction of all levels of intensity of physical activity, with being seated increasing from 5 to 8 hours per day, as well as increasing unhealthy meal preparation patterns (8). Although reopening plans are in place in many provinces, research from the US suggests that short term reduction in physical activity and an increase in sedentary behaviour due to COVID restrictions in children could potentially lead to long term health risks because of poor health habits becoming permanent (9). Unfortunately, physical activity has been on the decline between 2001 and 2016 in developed countries (10). and as one study showed as a result of covid over 40% of already inactive Canadians reduced their activity with 22% of active individuals reducing theirs. Canadians who exercised outdoors, in particular experienced increased health benefits, such as reduced levels of anxiety (11). Unfortunately lockdowns imposed as a result of COVID resulted in a deterioration in mental health, particularly felt by women (12).
Staying active during the pandemic
People do not necessarily have to stay indoors; however, when outside they should stay distanced to stay COVIDWise (13, 14) Before COVID, a trend had begun towards home fitness, as individuals found it safer and more convenient.15 Home based exercise can even include domestic activities (15, 2). For example, cooking, cleaning, and bathing children can be described as moderately intense physical activities, with mowing the lawn considered vigorous exercise (16, 17). Music can increase devotion to home workouts in the same manner as it does with gym workouts. Changing physical activity during the week is also important for increasing adherence (2). It is important to participate in physical activity that corresponds with your abilities. Anything is better than nothing and moving is important! (18).
How you can stay active during COVID
- Online healthy living resources
Canadian non-profit organization that was launched in the 1970s to promote a healthy lifestyle. It is a free application that includes public education, home video workouts, and prizes for being active
- Take physical activity outside
COVID is less likely to be transmitted outdoors than indoors (19). Therefore, utilize outdoor recreation areas. A lot of the physical activity that can be done at home can be done outside. Canada has a wealth of beautiful municipal, provincial and national parks. Provincial and national parks have many outdoor recreational activities such as hiking, camping, backcountry camping, swimming (20), while connecting to indigenous culture (21). To increase activity intensity instead of camping, try backcountry camping which can include portaging, hiking and canoeing!
- Utilize resources from your local library
Libraries are more than just books, they provide many community resources and programming. For example Ottawa Public Library (22) has online Isolation recreation resources or recommendations such access to GoNoodle (39). which are children’s videos to keep kids active
- Virtual physical activity
Manner traditional methods of staying active have incorporated virtual programming due to COVID. Virtual physical activity can be more than staying active. It can include social interaction, collective motivation and accountability, while avoiding monotony. Physical activity does not solely need to be of a traditional personal training model but can include a broad variety of activities including tai chi, dancing as well as guided workouts.
Health care providers can now track fitness regimens via feedback from applications (15)
Participaction has a section with free exercise videos (23)
- Active Transportation
Use your body to get where you need to be! Instead of using your vehicle to get to work, maybe attempt bicycling, walking, jogging, rollerblading or even skiing in wintertime (dependant on feasibility of course (24). In April 2021 Ottawa Valley Cycling and Active Transportation Alliance launched a Bike Bank so that everyone in the area in need of a bike can have access to one (25). Maybe this is something that could take off nationwide. Many municipalities also have mobility aids that can be rented such as bicycles and scooters. If there is a need in your community you could be an agent to improve active transportation infrastructure by communication with community leaders and politicians. Canada just released its first National Active Transportation Strategy (24). Active transportation has the ability to accomplish many goals, including reducing fossil fuel emissions, maintaining a physically active lifestyle, and saving money on fuel and vehicle maintenance.
- Virtual Running
In order to maintain the competition during COVID many groups have created virtual runs. There are many websites available that you can register with. Virtual running enables runners to compete in races when they choose and track their run with a smart tracking device, running swag is often included in the registration. It may even get those involved with running who were previously intimidated (26).
- Make a home workout area
You can utilize equipment such as resistance bands, dumbbells or kettlebells. If you are on a tight budget, household items such as bottles or cans can be used as weights, or use your own body weight by doing exercises such squats, push ups, sit ups, and planks. You can even use stairs in your home. Here is an example of a stair workout from the Mayo Clinic (27). The WHO has provided examples of workouts using only your body weight as resistance (1)
- Make your home active
Prepare and cook yourself a meal, play with your kids, organize a room in your house, or dance. Moderate activity is described as 3 to 5.9 metabolic equivalents (MET), while vigorous activity is >5.9 METs. Cooking has been rated as 3.5 METs, playing with children was found to be 5.8 METs, organizing a room was 4.8 METs, and dancing was 7.8 METs.16 A UK study found strength-based exercises that can even be done at home beneficial in reducing long term health consequences such as cancer and cardiovascular disease (4). It is important to stand up and move around whenever possible (18).
Exergames allow people to be physically active virtually by interacting with electronic sensors. Examples of exergames include swimming, rowing, cycling, running, and walking simulators. Exergames do not need to be played alone and can be useful in reducing stress, anxiety and depression during quarantine or isolation (2). However these games may not be beneficial for children (28). The first exergaming research institute has opened at the University of Calgary (29).
- For children
During the COVID pandemic physical activity amongst Canadian children and youth has declined in all domains with the exception of household chores, with the most significant declines seen in outdoor activity and sport. Screen time and social media use has also increased (30). Only 2.6% of Canadian children have met the guidelines during COVID compared to up to 17.1% in past samples (30).
Only 4 in 10 indigenous children take part in cultural activities, the implication being those involved with extracurricular activities such as cultural activities are more likely to be involved with sports (31)
It is important for children to be involved with Active play, as well as time in playgrounds and parks. If possible, get your child involved with structured sports (2)
Active For Life (32) is a website for parents to learn about physical activities for kids. Physical literacy is a by-product of physical education, which is important for child development (32).
Participaction has many resources available to families to “build your best day” , and include education on what is sedentary, and limits of sedentary behaviour. Many physical activity ideas can be done with COVID restrictions in mind (33).
The Canadian Pediatric Society has information for health care providers to encourage physical activity and healthy choices (34)
Everyone should have the opportunity to be physically active
The WHO requests that countries and communities provide adequate opportunities for all individuals to be active.10 Canadians with the lowest income levels often report the lowest levels of physical activity. Where possible, future activity guidelines should include more environment appropriate recommendations. Research has shown that having a larger social network can assist individuals in lower income areas to reach activity recommendations (35). In a CMAJ news article by Greg Basky Dr James Irvine states, reducing diabetes and cardiovascular disease in indigenous populations is “less about encouraging patients to spend a set amount of time “doing exercise” and more about supporting them in reconnecting with activities that are culturally or geographically relevant. “Things like powwow dancing, jigging, canoeing, or land-based activities like snaring rabbits or trapping are all things that involve physical activity, but they also build on cultural strengths and identity.” (35). In Indigenous communities it is important to recognize stressing current activity guidelines may not be effective at modifying risk factors. Adopting a holistic approach is important because it considers emotional, mental and spiritual well being as well as physical activity (36). Support to community driven culturally relevant programs could assist with increasing physical activity (36)
Decline in physical activity and increase in a sedentary lifestyle was a concern prior to COVID that we all need to recognize, as it can result in significant mental and physical health concerns. COVID has unfortunately caused further challenges by restricting our access to facilities and activities that we normally gravitate to. However, COVID may have also brought to light or reinforced new ways to stay physically active and reduce being sedentary that are possibly safer, more convenient, and less intimidating than traditional methods. Online or virtual activities may be a means to augment traditional methods and assist with meeting recommendations. We are blessed with a beautiful country, taking advantage of this and the recreational opportunities it presents can also help individuals improve their physical activity. It is important to recognize the perception we hold of what exercise is and remember simple things such as getting up and moving are important. Do your best to stay active. Many moderate intensity activities can be done within the comfort of your home and can lead to gratitude due to increased productivity. But remember, it is important to find enjoyable physical activity, as this will encourage you to continue! Combine it with your favourite music to add increased enjoyment (2). Participaction is an excellent Canadian grown resource that can help us all “stay fit and have fun,” during COVID and beyond.
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