Undo the Physical Damage of Pandemic Living

The U.S. is in a pandemic. Of broken toes.

At least, so said an article in the Washington Post earlier this year. The broken toes and other orthopedic injuries chronicled in the article can be attributed to deconditioning, and that deconditioning is just one of the surprising after-effects of the strange year we’ve all had.

The COVID-19 pandemic, with its stress and long, sedentary periods of isolation at home, has inspired many of us to pay more attention to our mental health. But it’s also had a detrimental effect on our bodies. Per The Atlantic, our physical complaints range widely. Aches, pain and soreness even when there is no obvious injury. Stiff necks, backs and legs. Headaches. Dry skin. Itchy eyes.

These physical complaints, if left unaddressed, can increase your risk of sprains, strains and other orthopedic injuries. In older people, they can increase the risk of a fall (which can trigger a cascade of potentially life-threatening problems). They can even affect your risk of heart disease and stroke.

Luckily, you have the ability and tools right now to shake off the cobwebs of 2020. Here’s how to undo the damage of a year of prolonged inactivity throughout your day.

Start Your Morning with a Full-Body Stretch

If you wake up feeling stiff most mornings, consider adding a low-impact full-body stretch to your routine. When you stretch, you lengthen your muscles, increasing blood flow and allowing your joints a greater range of motion. This can help decrease your risk of injury, which is why it’s so important to stretch before and after any physical activity.

Just remember: a stretch should be uncomfortable but never painful. If it hurts, ease off.

Wear Shoes or Slippers Around the House

For most of the past year, people have been staying at home in their socks or bare feet. And in the daily rush, it’s not uncommon to stub your toe against furniture, walls or other objects. This is likely fueling the Post‘s “pandemic of broken toes.” Protect your feet with slippers or similar footwear, and make sure your home’s high-traffic areas are clear of clutter. Your tootsies will thank you.

“De-Hunch” Your Work-from-Home Space

If you’re one of the lucky people who can do their job remotely from the comfort of home, make sure that your home office is not making you stiff and achey. Check that your seat, desk and computer are ergonomically friendly and stretch your upper body regularly to help avoid carpal tunnel syndrome and stiffness in the neck and shoulders. Take regular screen breaks (10 minutes every hour) to ease the strain on your eyes.

Water Those Joints

Staying hydrated throughout the day can help prevent joint pain. How much water should you drink? It can vary due to a variety of factors, so don’t get too hung up on a specific amount. If you rarely feel thirsty and your urine is light yellow or colorless, you’re doing just fine.

Fit in a Walk After Lunch

You should walk for a total of 30–45 minutes every day, so why not get it out of the way during your lunch break? (On hot days, though, you might want to reschedule for early morning or late evening.) Wear comfy shoes and bring along a friend or family member to keep you company.

Exercise on Your Own Terms

How much exercise should an adult get?

  • At least 150 total minutes of moderate exercise (brisk walking, swimming, outdoor chores) per week
  • At least 75 total minutes of vigorous exercise (running, dancing, bicycling, cardio workouts) per week
  • Strength training exercises for all major muscle groups at least twice per week

This may sound like a lot, especially if you’re just getting started or coming back after a long hiatus. But treat it as a goal, not a starting point. Here is how to overcome some of the most common obstacles to getting there:

  • Safety: If you’re not ready yet to return to a gym due to COVID-19 or other concerns, you can exercise at home using a variety of online resources.
  • Money: Look for free options on YouTube and streaming platforms. Many popular fitness apps (Peloton, etc.) also offer free trial periods.
  • Time: You can pack a lot of exercise into 5 or 10 minutes. Keep a few shorter programs on hand and squeeze them in on days when you’re busy.
  • Equipment: If you don’t have weights or resistance bands, look for a program that uses your own body weight. And the best exercise equipment? Kids! Keep your children healthy (and yourself motivated) by involving them. Here is how to get started at any age
  • Fitness level: Put aside your pride and start at a beginner level. You can add minutes and increase intensity as you go.

Go to Bed

Eight hours of sleep is time your bones and muscles use to repair themselves. But getting that kind of sleep can be easier said than done, especially when you’re busy or worried about something. Try these tactics for improving the quality of your nightly rest

If you’re experiencing bone, joint or muscle pain or diminished range of motion, consider talking to an AMITA Health orthopedic or sports medicine doctor