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What do astronauts and COVID 19 have in common ?

Updated: May 5, 2023

Well the short answer is, it’s deconditioning.

During spaceflight or exposure to microgravity, the load on the musculoskeletal system is diminished. Venturing into the environment of space can have negative effects on the human body.

You might not have heard the term before now, as it’s usually associated with older adults hospitalised for long periods of time. But in the past year, people of all ages from all around the world have become deconditioned due to COVID19.

The stark fact is that by 10 April 2021, over 127 million cases of Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) infection have been reported worldwide [1]. including 4.1 million deaths as of 21 July 2021. Here in the UK the pandemic saw us sink deeper into our sofas and stay at home more than ever before.

18 months on from the lockdown many indirect effects are now starting to be felt. In many countries, a strategy of ‘lockdown’ has been implemented to try and contain the pandemic. Such approaches typically place restrictions on movement, with people confined to their homes for long periods, and also limit social contact from families and friends. Older adults (particularly those living with multimorbidity and frailty) have often been subject to even stricter isolation than the general population. This places them at even greater risk of increased sedentary behaviour and associated outcomes of deconditioning, balance deficits, increased falls risk and worsening and/or new mental health problems [7]. Wider societal issues such as loneliness, bereavement and poverty will impact further on older people’s quality of life [8].

Levels of activity around the world have dropped significantly. It can not be underestimated just how much of an impact lockdown strategies have had. Many people have had their exercise routines drastically changed, some for good with the new era of working from home. If you consider the walk to work, moving around the office, going for lunch etc etc all movements that provided and stimulated your body have been non existent for a long period of time leads to very serious deconditioning.

One survey of 8,000 Brits by Nuffield Health found 73% of people failed to meet NHS recommendations on exercise since March last year – that’s at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity a week. Meanwhile, one quarter of over-55s have done no exercise at all since the start of the first lockdown.

Let’s not forget those lockdown love handles. In another survey about 60% said they bought more comfort food, including confectionery. Why because when it comes to snacking more frequently, the need for escapism from the pressures of daily life is a main reason for doing so and I was no exception. Sales of Burts Snacks Ltd has shifted £57.3m of crisps in a year and become the UK’s fastest growing independent “snacking” company thanks to the Covid pandemic.The firm saw sales jump by more than £7m in 2020. That’s alot of snacks and that’s just one example not including alcohol.

Another outcome from the pandemic is the increase in people working from home. I’m sure many of you now have much improved set ups but the reality is that you’re not designed to sit at a desk for 7 hours a day regardless of how expensive your chair is or how ergonomic your monitor or mouse is.

Now I don’t like to tell people they are broken, I want to empower them so they can get on with their lives.

The general rule is “use it or lose it,” but how quickly you’ll lose it depends on your:

  1. fitness level

  2. age

  3. length of break

  4. reason for the break

That’s a lot of variables. So let me just say, every individual is unique and different. But, everyone who stops working out (deconditions) will experience changes to their muscles, cardiovascular system and weight in different ways.

What you will notice is

  1. Returning to your pre pandemic levels of activity will be more difficult than usual

  2. we lose the conditioning strength of our heart and lungs more quickly than we lose muscle strength- more out of breath than normal

  3. Your metabolism will have slowed thus leading to weight gain

  4. Muscle strength can decrease by 50 percent in just three weeks.

The good news

Now the good news: The effects of deconditioning on your muscles, cardiovascular system and weight can all be reversed, (wait for it) with exercise. And the bad news: you’re not going to get back into shape in a few days. Strengthening the muscles, increasing your VO2 max and losing the weight can take twice as long to build back as it did to lose.

Exercise puts stress on the body and any good workout program includes rest days to help your body recover. There is a benefit to active recovery (light activity) and complete rest. Here are some tips to stop the slide of deconditioning:

  1. Avoid the all or nothing mindset. You don’t need to do 30 minutes of exercise all at once. If a project kept you from your three mile run, try to squeeze in two 10 minute walks. Doing something, instead of nothing can help you feel better about yourself, both physically and mentally.

  2. Don’t let your busy schedule be an excuse. Look at your schedule ahead of time and pencil in small amounts of time to exercise. Try to weave in ways to be active throughout you day, like walking and climbing stairs.

  3. Do body-weight workouts. You don’t need a gym to exercise, instead use your own body weight as resistance for strength training. Push-ups, squats, lunges and crunches are all examples of body-weight workouts you can fit in just about anywhere. Example if forma gymnastics amazing course teachers and price at just £15

  4. Accept your current abilities. Starting off your exercise routine too fast could lead to injury and frustration, and cause you to abandon exercise for good. If you were doing bicep curls at 15 pounds prior to your break, start at 10 pounds now and slowing increase from there.

Remember, it is good to incorporate rest days in your workout routine and take a break when you need to. Try not to judge yourself too harshly. The gym will still be there waiting for you when you are ready to return.


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