Older adults, particularly those over 65, have five times the risk of hospitalization and 90 times the risk of death from COVID-19 than young adults.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 78% of the more than 114,000 COVID-19-related deaths between May and August 2020 were people aged 65 and over.
Many of these individuals had compromised immune systems due, in part, to a variety of other health conditions including obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, respiratory disease, and hypertension.
The CDC suggests these additional health problems could lead to greater COVID-19 severity.
The good news, however, is that regular exercise and cardiorespiratory fitness can significantly reduce the risk COVID-19 poses to older adults by improving overall health and strengthening the immune system.
This is not the time to stop moving
Staying active can be difficult, as many seniors stay at home most, if not all, of the time to avoid the new coronavirus. As a result, the same lifestyle changes that keep people safe from exposure can also result in the adoption of sedentary habits, which make people vulnerable to serious health consequences if they contract COVID-19.
Exercise, particularly aerobic exercise, which gets the heart pumping and improves cardiorespiratory fitness, has multiple health benefits, including a reduced risk of stroke, heart attack, depression, and age-related cognitive decline and disease. Alzheimer’s.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends seniors get at least 150 minutes per week of moderate to vigorous intensity exercise. This means three 50-minute sessions each week, or just over 20 minutes a day.
Strengthen the immune system
Not only can exercise improve overall health, it can also specifically improve the immune system response, which is critical to surviving COVID-19.
As we age, the immune system becomes progressively less effective at responding to new viruses due to an age-related weakening of the immune system, also known as “immunosenescence”.
The good news is that exercise improves the efficiency of the immune system in people of all ages. Each exercise session mobilizes billions of immune cells throughout the body. The more immune cells circulate, the better they are at detecting and attacking potential pathogens.
While there is still no data on how exercise and cardiorespiratory fitness can reduce the risk of hospitalization or death from COVID-19, previous studies show that regular exercise improves the immune response to other viral infections.
Regular exercise has also been shown to reduce the risk of death from viral and respiratory diseases. Additionally, increased physical activity is known to improve and prolong the immune response from the flu shot.
Work out at home
How can seniors safely exercise and stay in aerobic shape while mostly stuck at home without access to a gym?
At Rutgers University-Newark’s Aging & Brain Health Alliance, we have offered physical exercise classes, via video conference or telephone, for seniors using materials they can easily find in the home.
Here are some exercises suggested by our fitness classes that you can safely do by yourself at home.
One of the best exercises to start your fitness journey is walking on the floors at home. Whether in a house or apartment, take time every hour to get up and walk. Set aside five to 10 minutes with the goal of increasing the number of daily steps and improving your overall cardiorespiratory health. Challenge a family member to join you and make it fun.
You should also take advantage of your walls. Wall seats are an easy way to engage your muscles and work your body. Just stand with your back against a wall; move your feet two feet from the wall and spread your legs hip-distance apart. Keeping your back against the wall, slowly and carefully lower your body until you sit down in an imaginary chair.
Remember to keep breathing, inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth, and you will start to feel the burning in the leg muscles. Try to get on and off five times if you feel confident and comfortable doing it. (For added safety, keep a chair or something else nearby to hold on to if you lose your balance.)
Finally, use a chair. Sit on the edge of a solid chair focusing on maintaining good posture. Plant your feet hip-distance apart; inhale deeply and, as you exhale, slowly raise one knee towards your chest. This is a seated crunch and will engage your deep core muscles. Complete five of these knee raises on each side, making sure to perform each knee lift as you exhale.[Deep knowledge, daily. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter.]
The exercise habits developed during this period of COVID-19 – and maintained after the threat has passed – will support your immune health for years to come.
Mark A. Gluck, Professor, Center for Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience, Rutgers University – Newark ; Bernadette A. Fausto, Postdoctoral Fellow, Center for Molecular & Behavioral Neuroscience, Rutgers University – Newark and Lisa Charles, fitness / wellness research coordinator for the Rutgers Aging Brain Health Alliance, Rutgers University – Newark
This article was republished by The conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.