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Life in times of COVID-19

Why you need to remain active

Wow, this is a strange way to come back from my holiday. Before I left there was 'that thing in China', and now within the scope of just a few days the country is on lockdown. Including all gyms and other health-promoting facilities. And they may very well remain closed for months to come. Amidst questions that all of us deal with regarding the social, logistical and financial sides of our lives, there is a slumbering problem bound to soon rear its head. Because while staying at home may be great for containing viral infections and boosting your shares in Netflix, it is potentially catastrophic for the health of our bodies and minds.

photo by @wearebru

'Use it or lose it' is a term commonly associated with fitness. We all know that in order to build our muscles we need to move, and if we stop doing so regularly, capacity will gradually vanish. But it's not just our muscles that need to be strained in order to flourish. Our whole body and all of its systems work like this. Think of absolute essentials like the intestines needing food to digest in order to maintain function, or our brains that need to be moved and challenged in complex environments in order to nurture its capacity. Inactivity is a slow death.

"Immune function tends to be low in the inactive, and improve with activity."

And this holds just as true for our immune systems, which we need in order to be able to fend off both non-communicable and the now so pressing communicable diseases. If you'd plot a few markers of immune function against physical activity, you'd see something like an upside down U-shaped graph. What this means is that immune function tends to be poor in the sedentary, greatly improved in the physically active, and be poor again in those who are (chronically) over-exercising. Normally you'd probably skim over this kind of information until you'd reach the chapters on biceps and butts, but I hope that by now I have made a case for taking care to align the activity levels of yourself and your loved ones with what a body needs to be healthy and resilient.

And it doesn't stop at the biological side of things. While I do think that a period of slowing down may actually be a good thing for some, long term confinement and inactivity are a great danger to the mind. This type of behavior often results from mental issues, but it works the other way around as well. Take away too much movement, purpose, and stimulation from any person (or animal), and they will start to feel like shit. Possibly even more so in a situation where the usual cathartic strategies like going out for a drink or enjoying a concert are all out of the equation. I think we are therefore facing a time in which taking conscious care of our bodies and minds becomes all the more important. And physical activity is low hanging fruit in that regard.

"Take away too much of movement, purpose and stimulation from any person, and they will start to feel like shit."

Of course I realize that this is a relative kind of low hanging fruit now that all sports clubs and gyms have closed. This will pose a challenge. Because if you are reading this article, then you are probably a lot like me in regards to that you normally stay away from the ghetto style park and home workouts due to their limited options for manipulation. But this is just a paradigm in which we normally work, and you do not need all the options in order to concoct a few months of high quality training. You just have to be resourceful.

One thing is for sure: the upcoming months are going to be a challenge in every aspect of our lives. And keeping that all too important physical activity habit going will be no exception. But with some planning, grit, and an open mind, I know that you will succeed. Good luck, all the best to you and your loved ones, and I hope to be seeing you at the park.


Bryan Wolters

MSc. Human Movement Sciences, former powerlifter, and current trainer at Vondelgym Amsterdam.

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