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Active in Quarantine

Inspira health experts advise; Perfect antidote to pandemic is to get outside, exercise.

by Ahmad Graves-El

During the first week of college, advisors alert incoming students about the “Freshman 15,” a term used about the weight gain some freshmen accumulate on campus their initial year out of high school.

Similar to college freshmen, since the coronavirus pandemic began nearly a year ago, many people have gained a few pounds, which has now been dubbed the “Quarantine 15.”

Recent studies and articles have revealed that many people have become more sedentary, feel more stress, sleep less, and have resorted to eating an exorbitant amount of comfort food during the pandemic.

In a recent article on psychologytoday.com, the author explains, “When we’re worried or frightened, we’re more likely to seek out sugars, fats, and carbs for a quick energy boost.”

However, “Comfort eating traps us in a hard-to-break eating cycle that adds to stress levels, resulting in serious health problems, such as heart disease, diabetes, and obesity, as well as emotional problems, such as depression and anxiety,” the author continues.

So, along with the deterioration of some people’s mental health, the pandemic has also had a pernicious effect on folks’ physical health, especially those who have challenges with obesity.

January is Healthy Weight Awareness Month and local medical experts have been doing their best to inform the citizenry about the impact of the novel coronavirus on those who struggle with their weight and the benefits of making healthy food choices during this fraught time.

“Healthy Weight Awareness Month is an opportunity to focus on lifestyle changes for healthier eating and commit to an exercise program,” says Dr. Katie Schultes, attending physician of emergency medicine at Inspira Medical Center, Mullica Hill.

Doctors have become quite concerned about the effects of the novel coronavirus on those who have always and those who have recently begun to struggle with their weight.

“The obesity epidemic is impacted negatively by the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Dr. Nicole Zucconi, family medicine residency program director, obesity medicine fellowship director, and family medicine department chair, Inspira Health.

“This is due to a multitude of reasons including, but not limited to, trouble obtaining groceries; lack of access to gyms; the psychological impact of depression, anxiety and sleep disturbances; as well as a shift [to] virtual meetings, work, and school causing an increase in sedentary lifestyles.”

According to webmd.com, “A person is considered obese when his or her weight is 20 [percent] or more above normal weight or his or her body mass index (BMI) is over 30.”

Additionally, Thor Christensen with American Heart Association News says, according to some new research, “People with obesity—regardless of age—are more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 and have higher risks for complications and death.”

Although it looks bleak, there are proven steps one can take to overcome challenges with obesity.

“The advice I have been giving patients is to make their health a top priority,” says Dr. Zucconi.

“You can still make healthy food choices by using popular delivery services if you are not comfortable obtaining groceries yourself,” she continues.

“If you are cooking more at home, choose healthy recipes. Pick out fresh fruits and vegetables and lean meats and make positive changes by eliminating sugar beverages like juices and sodas and drink more water.

“I have also been encouraging patients to utilize the internet to find free exercise videos and and/or get outside when the weather permits.”

Getting outside and exercising is an idea in which Dr. Schultes, a former Division I athlete in Cross Country and Track and Field at Lafayette College, is a huge proponent.

“Running is the perfect escape from the stress and uncertainty of this pandemic,” Dr. Schultes says. “It does not require a commute and the only exercise equipment you need is your shoes!”

Many people may bristle at the idea of running/exercising during the arctic winter weather, but Dr. Schultes maintains that even with “limited daylight and colder temperatures, it can still be done!”

“Wear shoes with good traction, to help for potential icy roads; run in well-lit areas with reflective gear; and dress

in layers with moisture wicking clothes if possible,” are her tips for running safely during this time of year.

Eating an abundance of sweets, overindulging in alcoholic beverages, and sitting on your couch playing video games for hours at a time and days on end may seem like a good way to combat the coronavirus, but alas, there are more constructive ways to do so.

“Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is always important and even more so now, given the pandemic,” says Dr. Zucconi. “Eating healthy, exercising, and maintaining good sleep hygiene will help increase your immune system.”

“Exercise is more important than ever,” adds Dr. Schultes. “It not only improves mental health, reduces stress, and promotes weight loss, but it also boosts your immune system!”

By following the hearty advice of our good doctors, you may be able to turn that “Quarantine 15” into a “Quarantine I’m healthier than I’ve ever been before, and I love it.”

For more information, visit inspirahealthnetwork.org

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