Physical Wellness during times of COVID-19

It has now been approximately 136 days, 3 hours, 26 minutes and 7, 8, 9 seconds since we first began to feel the impact of this novel virus (but who’s counting?). I can say that this unprecedented healthcare crisis has taken a significant toll on the mental, physical and emotional well-being of many, as we begin to adapt to a new normal. Our everyday way of life has been upended with schools/daycares closed, working from home, and if you are anything like me, eating out of boredom. With gyms being closed and my clothes somehow shrinking, I soon realized that I needed to take a more proactive approach in taking care of myself, in order to effectively take care of others. As a Physical Therapist, I have grown accustomed to treating orthopedic conditions associated with poor posture and deconditioning due to reduced activity. Exercise in general has shown to improve mood through the release of endorphins, and improves oxygenation to your muscles and brain, allowing you to be more alert and focused. Here are some ideas/exercises to help you get through these trying times.

Working from home can be convenient and beneficial. I mean, you can basically wear workout clothes from the moment you roll out of bed. Sure, there may be the occasional Zoom or WebEx call that will require you to put on an untucked dress shirt or blouse, to give the impression that you are all business and fully coping with our new normal, but who are we kidding? Other than that, there are many s times throughout the day that can be scheduled for physical activity requiring only a few short minutes. Two areas of focus for me are: stretching/range of motion, and general mobility.

Let’s talk about stretching. As most of us are glued to our work laptops, you may have started to notice that you are beginning to develop some neck pain and headaches. This is most often associated with your workstation set-up. I always find myself looking down to the screen with my head stretched forwards attempting to read the somehow tripled number of daily emails. This posture often causes tension within the shoulders, neck and even on your eyes. To combat this, I recommend taking a quick break at least every hour (maybe 5-10 minutes). This will give you a chance to sneak in some of those exercises I was talking about. Below is a sequence of exercises that can be completed to stretch the problem areas and improve blood flow. For some of the visual complications associated with staring at a computer for several hours a day, occasionally look away from your computer screen to a vantage point ~10-15 ft away. This will reduce strain on your eyes and allow the muscles to work in a different way. There are also several different varieties of trendy, non-prescription eye glasses that can help filter blue-light (blue light reduces contrast, which leads to digital eye strain).

From left-right: 1) doorway stretch- helps stretch pectorals and front of shoulders, (opposite of hunched over computer posture) 2) neck range of motions circles (gets the head/neck out of the forward flexed position. 3) wrist flexion stretch 4) wrist extension stretch (both 3 &4) promotes flexibility from using a mouse or keyboard to reduce symptoms associated with Carpal tunnel syndrome.

Sitting for the majority of the day can cause additional pressure and strain on our low backs as well. Some symptoms associated with this is: numbness/tingling in legs, difficulty initially standing up, and inability to get comfortable. Some additional exercises to add into your newly established hourly routine can improve blood blow, range of motion and even burn a few calories. Below is a basic sequence of exercises that can help address all of these aspects of your physical well-being.

From left-right: 1) low back stretch- helps with low back tightness from immobility and forward flexed posture), 2) air squats-promote blood flow to legs and work the muscles that have been idle 3) Low back/hamstring stretch to get out of the typical seated posture that cause hamstring tightness, 4) walk in place to promote increased heart rate, blood flow and oxygenation.

Lastly, it is important to stay on top of sufficient hydration and diet. I think we have all been in a situation where we have all been so busy with work, only to realize that we haven’t consumed anything but two grande iced coffees with 2 shots of espresso since 8 am. An easy trick that I learned is to keep a 32 oz. tumbler of water on my desk at all times. I find that water consumption is often one of those things that are “out of sight, out of mind”, so having it next to you will provide a good visual cue to hydrate throughout the day. In addition, having some light, protein packed snacks on hand can help keep your energy up and give you the necessary nutrition to power through the rest of your day.

At this point, you are obviously well aware that this should in no way, substitute an effective exercise routine aiming to increase your strength or cardiovascular endurance necessary in preparation for the 2020 Summer Olympics. However, it is a way to maintain your health during a stressful workday and ward off some unintentional physical strain that working from home has caused. So, keep your chin up, shoulders back, water glass half full and stay healthy.

-Bryan Cook, PT, DPT

Bryan is graduate of University of North Georgia where he earned his Doctorate of Physical Therapy degree in 2012. He has dedicated his career to working with patients with neurological injuries and has been a part of the Learning Services team for the past 5 years. With over 35 years of experience, Learning Services is a leading national provider of expert neuro-rehabilitation services for individuals who have experienced catastrophic neurological injuries. Our rehabilitation teams are comprised of clinicians with expertise in brain injury who are all full-time employees in collaboration with a network of experienced medical providers in the field.