The Importance of Physical and Mental Fitness for Older Adults during the Pandemic

July 14, 2020

Dr. Mandissa Sealey, a Geriatric and Internal Medicine physician with Lake Cumberland Medical Associates shares what you need to know to keep yourself and other older adults in your life safe, and in good health.

As a result of the social distancing restrictions that were put in place to reduce the spread of COVID-19, there has also been reduction in physical activity for some older adults.

The reduction has been in both incidental physical activity and formal exercise. The former due to reduced participation in community activities such as shopping and socializing, while the latter is due to reduced attendance at exercise classes, gyms, golf, bowling and other group activities.  Restriction of these activities and regular exercise could have harmful effects on those over 65.

There is strong evidence that physical activity is linked to functional abilities, including mobility and independence in personal and community activities of daily living, particularly in older adults.

Physical activity can also improve the health of older people with chronic ailments such as cardiovascular and cerebrovascular (of the brain) disease, dementia and cognitive impairment.  There are many organizations offering exercise videos for free, which can be accessed from your computer or phone.  Check out Go4Life from the National Institute on Aging or the Fitness Blender Total Body Chair Workout, as a starting point.

Over the last few months of the pandemic, when most people were only venturing away from home when absolutely necessary, it is possible that typical physical and mental functions may have declined in some older adults due to mismanagement of acute or chronic illnesses, and/or the loss of access to rehabilitative services or physical activities. Reduced function and mobility can be a precursor to reductions in independence, quality of life, the need for higher levels of assisted living, and mortality.  As restrictions ease and health services resume normal operations, we recommend you and your loved ones schedule a checkup with your healthcare provider as soon as possible, to ensure that any health concerns can be identified and managed appropriately.

Adults 65 years and older may also need vaccines to prevent diseases such as pneumonia, shingles, influenza, tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis. These routine vaccinations prevent illnesses that could lead to long term health problems, including hospitalization, that otherwise could have been avoided. We encourage you to contact your doctor to ensure you’re up to date on age appropriate immunizations and screenings.

While we don’t know what the future holds amidst coronavirus, in general, we recommend that older adults continue to follow CDC health guidelines to protect against the spread of coronavirus:

  • Do not discontinue current medications without first consulting your doctor or healthcare provider.
  • Seek emergency care as you normally would, especially for suspected heart attack or stroke symptoms.
  • Practice physical distancing by staying 6 feet apart (about 2 arm’s length) from others both indoors and out.
  • Always wear a face covering, or mask, and keep items such as hand sanitizer and tissue close at hand.
  • Avoid touching your face or any other "high touch" surfaces or items.  
  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Make an in-person visit with your healthcare provider should you have any questions about your health.  Many facilities, including those at Lake Cumberland, are practicing the most effective cleaning and disinfection protocols available in healthcare today. 

Virtual activities, events, and gatherings present the lowest risk of exposure to COVID-19, help keep your mind sharp, and may help to combat feelings of isolation.  Here are some suggestions for activities that you can engage in while social distancing: 

  • Use video calling to stay in touch with family and friends.  If you need help learning to use the video calling feature on your phone, ask a younger neighbor or your local library to talk you through the process. 
  • Visit a famous museum, such as the Musée d'Orsay in Paris, the Guggenheim, or the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum through a virtual tour.
  • Check out animal cams, like the “Panda Cam” at the Atlanta Zoo, the Beluga Whales at the Georgia Aquarium, and the lions, tigers, and bears at the San Diego Zoo.
  • Enjoy virtual theater and music performances with organizations such as the Metropolitan Opera,  LA Theater Works, and the Kennedy Center

Most importantly, if you or a loved one learn that you might have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 or if anyone in your household develops symptoms such as cough, fever, new loss of taste or smell, or shortness of breath, call your family doctor, or an urgent care facility as soon as possible.  And remember, your experience at our office (or any healthcare facility) may look a little bit different than in the past, but this is because we have new processes and procedures in place to keep our community healthy. 

Mandissa Sealey, MD

Dr. Mandissa Sealey is accepting new patients at Lake Cumberland Medical Associates.  She is board certified in Geriatric and Internal Medicine.  To schedule an appointment with her, or another healthcare provider, call 800-424-DOCS  (1-800-424-3627).