My health span, my lifespan and the lockdown

Written by Nicola Hunter, 09 October

Nicola Hunter, Chartered Physiotherapist writes about her life in the Lockdown

Did you get any fitter in the lockdown? Sadly I didnt! I had the time. More time that I have ever had before to get fit! There was no commute to work, just downstairs to my home office. Meetings I would have travelled to took place by zoom so no early starts and late finished to my day. My social life stopped abruptly - meaning my evenings and weekends were free. I had no excuses. I did do a daily long walk with our dog and my garden has never looked tidier. But overall I found that the average number of steps I did each day reduced by about a third as did my standing time (as measured by my phone health tracker). I didn’t have added responsibilities of balancing working from home, childcare, home schooling, caring or other responsibilities, which would have likely made it even harder to find time to keep active.

Vitality - a health and life insurance company reported that is members completed 28% fewer sessions of physical activity in the first few weeks of lockdown compared to the period before. It also reported that members did not achieve their daily step goal. So I wasn’t alone! I think a key reason is that the pandemic removed much of the incidental exercise I took each day, for example walking to and from work, going out to grab lunch and walking around the office to see colleagues. In the evenings and weekends, I would go to visit friends, or I would be out playing tennis and going to the supermarket or to the shops. Most worrying was that Vitality showed that the people with health problems suffered the greatest reduction in their daily activity during lockdown.

We all have a lifespan, but its more important to consider is our health span. I may well live into my 90s but will I be a healthy 90 year old? Longer life expectancy is a reality for all of us living in the 21st Century, and our lifespan continues to lengthen – a child born today will live for 5 hours longer than a child born yesterday. But our lifespan is outpacing our health span. Your health span is the number of years of your life that you enjoy in good health. In the UK, currently women have poor health for the last 10 years of their lives and men for the last 7. Much of the ill health and disability is due to musculoskeletal disorders, osteoarthritis, back pain, falls and fragility fractures of bones weakened by osteoporosis. Public Health England’s recent reports says there can be substantial health gains for adults with long term condition such as arthritis if they do 150 minutes of physical activity at a moderate to vigorous intensity and 2 sets of challenging strength and balance exercises each week. There is very little evidence suggesting that physical activity is unsafe for disabled adults provided they start out gently and build up slowly and pace activities so they have sufficient recovery time.

Covid-19 has had a massive impact on our lives. Lockdown seems to have made many of us more sedentary and less fit by removing both real and incidental exercise from our daily routines, At the same time it has given a renewed focus on the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle, particularly as we now know that being obese significantly increases the risk of needing hospital treatment for Covid-19.

With a ‘new normal’ life resuming slowly I am finding it easier to stand, walk and move more and to sit less once again but I am aware that the last 6 months of doing less have had a negative impact on my fitness and I have lost ground to regain now. I’m starting out gently and building up slowly with a goal of getting my steps back up to 10,000 a day and to do 30 minutes of brisk walking each day. I think its important to keep track of my activity. I like the fitness wearables and smart phones health apps that inform me of my activity level and also compare it to my activity the week, month and year before. Its not always good news but at least I know and have the chance to take action now so I have a better chance that my health span and life span are aligned.

Favourite apps

  • Apple health
  • Active 10
  • Couch to 5K

- Source: Bechir Kaddech, Unsplash

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