In a study of 34 women aged 50 to 70, researchers from the University of São Paulo (USP) in Brazil carried out objective measurements of the effects of the decline in physical activity on the health of subjects during the period of social distancing and imposed Isolation was observed due to COVID-19. Tests done after the first 16 weeks of imprisonment showed deterioration in her general health, including loss of muscle strength and decreased aerobic capacity, and increased cholesterol and glycated hemoglobin, both of which are risk factors for metabolic disorders.
The study was supported by the São Paulo Research Foundation – FAPESP and published in an article in the journal Experimental Gerontology.
“It is important to emphasize that even before the pandemic, these women were considered to be physically inactive in the sense that they did not exercise regularly. With imprisonment, they became even more sedentary and gave up activities such as dog walks, shopping and games. “Grandchildren, walking to the bus stop or walking to work,” said Carlos Bueno Junior, last author of the article. Bueno Junior is a professor at from the Ribeirão Preto School of Physical Education and Sports (EEFERP-USP) at the University of São Paulo.
The study was developed before the pandemic in collaboration with Ellen de Freitas, another professor at EEFERP-USP, and its original aim was to analyze the effects of different physical training programs on groups of volunteers with different profiles.
A first series of examinations and tests took place in February 2020 before the start of the actual study to determine weight, body mass index (BMI), fat mass, waist circumference, blood pressure, grip strength (measured with a dynamometer), and nutrition (via a questionnaire ). The women were also asked to take a test known as a six-minute walk to measure their cardiovascular capacity. Finally, blood samples were collected to analyze white and red blood cell counts, cholesterol, glycemia, insulin, and glycated hemoglobin (risk factors for type 2 diabetes).
“The plan was to repeat all the exams after completing the exercise protocol, but the pandemic prevented that. Instead, we adapted the project to assess the health impacts of the social changes caused by COVID-19, especially in the elderly.We took the baseline measurements. We ran the tests again after the first 16 weeks of detention and followed all protocols to avoid contagion, “said Bueno Junior.
Master’s candidates João Ribeiro de Lima and Gabriela Abud contributed to the study and are first and second authors of the article.
The second test battery showed no changes in weight, BMI, fat mass or waist circumference. However, on average, insulin levels rose 39.8% and glycated hemoglobin levels rose 9.7%. Blood sugar increased 1.3%, but this was not considered significant.
The total cholesterol increased by 8%. Platelets decreased by 10%, a change considered significant: the causes and effects of this phenomenon are being investigated.
The grip test showed a decrease in muscle strength of 5.6%. The six minute walk test showed a 4.4% loss of aerobic capacity.
“Some of these parameters, such as muscle strength and aerobic capacity, were already below ideal for this age group due to the lifestyle of the volunteers,” said Lima. “The study showed that in the context of the pandemic, something bad got worse. The risk of chronic diseases increased and existing cardiovascular or metabolic problems worsened. “
According to Abud, the responses to the questionnaire showed that diet did not deteriorate over the period, so the negative health effects seen in the study were mainly due to reductions in physical activity. “Many of these women had jobs and hectic everyday lives before the pandemic, even though they didn’t play sports or exercise regularly,” she said. “Some reported feeling more stressful because of the imprisonment, and this may also have contributed to the general deterioration in their health.”
The researchers believe the results should serve as a warning to government and society in general. “In just 16 weeks, some parameters have changed significantly and the prolongation of the public health crisis tends to have even more serious health effects on the sedentary elderly. We need to think about ways we can safely promote physical activity during this time, “said Lima.
For Bueno Junior, exercise in times of social distancing or isolation is of crucial importance not only for physical but also for mental health. “One way is to train at home using virtual platforms,” he said. “However, for the elderly or those with physical limitations, it is important to have personal professional guidance during exercise as the risk is greater.”
According to Lima, the results of the study show that in addition to the time for exercise and training, the activities of the rest of the day are important and should be evaluated. “Many believe that just because they work out at the gym for an hour they can eat whatever they want freely or sit in front of the TV for the rest of their free time,” he said. “That is not really the case, however. It is important to reduce the time spent sitting or lying down.”
Research Foundation São Paulo (FAPESP)
Ribeiro de Lima, JG, et al. (2021) Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on the Global Health of Women aged 50 to 70. Experimental gerontology. doi.org/10.1016/j.exger.2021.111349.