5 ways seniors can boost their health in quarantine

Published September 13, 2020, 12:07 PM

by Paola Navarette

People over 60, and especially over 80, are at risk for loneliness and severe infection. Here are some steps they can take to keep themselves healthy

“Trying to preserve some sense of normalcy is important for older people’s wellbeing,” says Dr. Joy Mercader, a cardiologist at Medical Plaza Makati.

Maintaining a routine, she said, like getting up and getting dressed and doing what you usually do, can positively affect mental health.

“And being optimistic will be good for your heart,” she says. “Good mental health will also help strengthen your immune system and increase your capacity to combat infection.”

But there’s more to do as the pandemic isolates of the elderly. We’ve all read ghastly stories about Covid-positive patients dying alone. Aware that the mortality rate among the elderly is much higher than that of the young, many seniors comply with the physical distancing and quarantine orders, even as they understand that social isolation generates the lethal byproducts of loneliness—depression, sleep disorders, anxiety, substance abuse, and self-harm—particularly for those who don’t have family or neighbors to help with grocery and pharmacy runs.

But there are ways to cope, experts say. Below are five things you can do every day to maintain your physical and mental health if you’re isolating at home.

1. Right now, start bringing movement into tiny moments

Next time you watch a TV show, get up and do some squats during the commercials, says Mercader. Do side lunges when you’re throwing clothes in the dryer, or do arm and heel raises while you’re waiting for a pot of water to boil.

2. Don’t forget to eat good food—they’re all around you

The cardiologist says older adults should continue to eat healthy, well-balanced meals. “I encourage my patients to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables every day, and limit alcohol intake and food and drinks high in sugar, salt, and saturated fats,” says Mercader.

3. Get up and walk, even for just 15 minutes

“As long as you’re able to maintain a reasonable amount of distance and you’re being good about hand hygiene, then taking a walk around your neighborhood is good,” says geriatrician Dr. Cheridine Oro-Josef. “It clears your mind, and it keeps you active.”

Every senior should aim for 150 minutes of physical activity every week, she says, but the amount of time you walk each day can vary. What counts is that you’re moving your body. Dancing is also a great way to get your heart rate up. So play some of your favorite ’80s music and boogie with your partner or children.

4. Get digitally connected

Experts warn that social distancing, the cornerstone of epidemic control, could lead to social isolation, already a problem in the older population.

Aware of the danger, Josef has suggested to her patients that they switch to virtual meetings with friends and relatives, with the benefits of social engagement in mind. “I encourage them to reach out to their family, whether through text, messenger apps, or Zoom, to be able to talk about their worries,” she says. “Finding humor in little things and joining some groups that cater to seniors to make new friends also help.”

5. And find some distractions

People of all ages are concerned about the spread of the coronavirus, and seniors, as a group, tend to experience emotions intensely. Josef recommends to limit their exposure to the news and discussions about Covid-19 to one hour a day and, if possible, use the rest of the day and other parts of the home for productive or pleasurable activities.

You can tackle long-neglected chores in and around the home. Some ideas: Clean out the refrigerator or pantry, take the stove apart and wash everything down, repair torn clothing (including socks), and go through bookshelves and pack up books not worth keeping that you read long ago or that are now out of date.