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Battling the physical and mental effects of social isolation

Every single one of us is currently being affected by the global pandemic is the COVID-19 virus, otherwise known as the coronavirus. It is likely that each of us knows someone affected by it, or are personally experiencing some sort of social isolation as a result. It is important, now more than ever, we understand how to combat the effects isolation can have on our physical and mental health.

How can social isolation affect me and those I care about?

There is strong evidence that both social isolation and loneliness are associated with negative effects on our cardiovascular system and mental health. Being socially isolated and lonely can cause symptoms of anxiety, depression and even dementia.

Many of you may have been urged to work at home causing isolation away from coworkers. Your children may be home from school and isolated from their friends and teammates. Perhaps you have a loved one in a senior living facility that is not allowed to have visitors and limited time outside of their living spaces. Each one of you is susceptible to experiencing these negative effects of isolation.

Beyond its impact on mental health, social isolation can affect our physical health, as well. When we are confined to our homes, we are less likely to maintain our daily physical activity levels. This is likely due to a lack of access to fitness equipment, canceled sporting activities or a decrease in motivation. In any case, decreased activity can lead to negative effects on our cardiovascular system and we all know how important it is to keep our hearts healthy.

How can I combat these effects while practicing social distancing?

First and foremost, this experience serves as an opportunity to strengthen the bonds within our own homes. Outside of the relationships within the home, there are a variety of technologies that allow us to stay in contact with one another including social media, text messaging, phone calls or video chatting. These options are the best way to practice social distancing while maintaining a social life.

The positive effects of exercise on both cardiovascular and mental health has been widely studied. It’s as easy as incorporating 15-30 minutes of walking at a moderate intensity each day to see these positive effects. For those who enjoy it or are looking for a new challenge, running is a great way to achieve this as well.

Other movements that do not require any equipment include: squats, lunges, push-ups, sit ups, planks, bridges, stairs, and many more. Try moving continuously through multiple movements for 10-30 minutes taking breaks as needed. All of the movements listed above can be modified to meet your fitness level. Ask your therapist about movement options that will work for you, as well as how much and how often to do them.

The Bottom Line

The situation we are facing is creating new challenges for each of us. Some of these challenges are out of our direct control but our physical and mental health can be maintained and improved by taking action now. If you are to go outside, maintain social distancing and go on a walk or to the park with friends and family.

For new ideas, contact your physical therapist, follow the wide variety of exercise accounts on social media, or research reliable exercise apps for your phone. Gain a sense of control, improve your physical and mental health, and strengthen your connection with family and friends by staying active!

Patrick Ford is a doctor of physical therapy at Kinetic Edge Physical Therapy in Newton.

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