Researchers at the University of So Paulo (USP) in Brazil conducted a research study involving 34 women aged 50-70 to analyze the effects of different physical training programs.
“It’s important to stress that these women were already considered physically inactive before the pandemic, in the sense that they didn’t exercise regularly. With confinement, they became even more sedentary, abandoning such activities as walking the dog, going shopping, playing with grandchildren, walking to the bus stop, or walking to work”, says Carlos Bueno Junior, last author of the article.
A first set of examinations were conducted before the start of the study to record weight, body mass index (BMI), fat mass, waist circumference, blood pressure, handgrip strength (measured with a dynamometer), and diet (via a questionnaire).
The women were also asked to do a test known as the six-minute walk to measure their cardiovascular capacity. Finally, blood samples were collected to analyze white and red blood cell count, cholesterol, glycemia, insulin and glycated hemoglobin level (risk factors for type 2 diabetes).
The original plan of study is to repeat all the examinations after they completed the exercise protocol, but the COVID-19 pandemic prevented this to happen.
Instead, they changed the research plan to evaluate the health impact of the social changes caused by COVID-19 in older women. Already the baseline measurements were taken and so they repeated all examinations after the first 16 weeks of confinement.
The results of repeated examination show that no changes in weight, BMI, fat mass, or waist circumference. There is a rise of 39.8% in levels of insulin; 9.7% in glycated hemoglobin, and 8% in total cholesterol.
Whereas the blood platelets fell 10% ; the grip test showed a 5.6% drop in muscle strength, and the six-minute walk test showed a 4.4% loss of aerobic capacity.
The findings of the study published in the journal Experimental Gerontology indicate the adverse effect on health observed in the aged women is due mainly to the decrease in physical exercise.
The prolonging of the public health crisis tends to make the implications for the health of sedentary older women even more severe. We need to think about ways of promoting physical activity safely during this period.