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Heart Tips - How to stay physically active during the pandemic

Feb. 04, 2021

February is Heart Month and staying physically active has never been more challenging with Canadians being asked to stay indoors, balance child care and work from home where possible. Cardiologists Drs. Jeremy Kobulnik and Gillian Nesbitt from the Miles Nadal Heart Centre at Sinai Health, sit down run through the top five tips for staying heart healthy during a pandemic.

1) Get creative and find safe ways to exercise to limit your exposure to COVID-19

“Brisk walking or jogging outside while maintaining a safe distance is relatively safe,” says Dr. Kobulnik. “The chance of contracting COVID-19 from outdoor exposure is much lower than from indoor exposure, especially if you keep your distance from others.”

Lockdown doesn’t have to mean the end of friendly competition, either, says Dr. Nesbitt. She points to fitness apps like Peloton that allow for people to track their progress and compare stats with friends and colleagues. It’s a great way to encourage loved ones to stay active and even engage in some playful ribbing.

2) Regular exercise may reduce your chances of developing severe COVID-19 infection

Regular exercise can prevent weight gain - a risk factor for severe COVID-19 infection and help strengthen your immune system, says Dr. Kobulnik. Obesity is a major risk factor for severe COVID-19 infection, as it is associated with impaired immunity, chronic inflammation, and blood that’s prone to clot.

In addition, people who are overweight are more likely than ideal-weight people to have other diseases that are independent risk factors for severe COVID-19, including heart disease, lung disease and diabetes.

3) Exercise doesn’t need to be expensive

There are many free apps are available that can help guide you in getting fit. Drs. Kobulnik and Nesbitt say they have been using the Nike app, which has been free to use for several months.

“You just need a mat and can use household items as free weights,” says Dr. Nesbitt. “Soup cans, a heavy book, or a case of water can all be used as fitness equipment. And don’t forget to stay well hydrated and eat nutritious snacks.”

4) Establish boundaries and prioritize self-care

It’s hard to stay motivated when you’re stuck in one location, admits Dr. Nesbitt. When working from home, try to be conscious of sitting at the desk all day.

“Get up and move about throughout the workday,” she says. “Set a timer or use a stand up work station. You can also build in stretching or yoga that can be done at the desk. It’s also critical to establish boundaries around your work day to ensure it doesn’t bleed into your precious personal time.”

Staying heart healthy doesn’t necessary mean carving out an hour for a full workout. A recent study demonstrated that as little as 11 minutes a day of moderate to vigorous activity may be associated with a lower chance of dying, adds Dr. Kobulnik.

5) Intensity matters when it comes to heart health

“It does not need to be very intense but should be a little bit intense,” explains Dr. Kobulnik. “Moderately intense exercise should make it difficult to speak at the same time.”

And pace yourself: Heart and Stroke recommends adults should accumulate at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic physical activity per week, in bouts of 10 minutes or more.


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