New Year. New Resolutions. With the start of the New Year, many of us make commitments to improve our health. Some of us take on a new routine or hobby, give up or change old habits. As the holidays go, many of us take on the resolution to engage in more exercise and lose the extra pounds gained through the indulgence during the holidays. As we embark on the new journey to better health at the start of a new year, it is important to know that we are not alone. There are many around us that are also trying to engage in a healthy resolution to be fit. And there are many resources available to increase our physical activity and remain fit throughout the year.
It has been well established that physical activity contributes to many health benefits. Those who engage in regular exercise benefit from better sleep, growth, development, mood, and overall health.1 On the contrary, the lack of exercise and an increase in sedentary behaviors may contribute to overweight and obesity. Overweight and obesity have deleterious effects in adults, including increased risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, metabolic syndrome, depression, poor quality of life, and decreased life span.
As the global COVID‐19 pandemic unfolded in year 2020, over 90% of U.S. adult residents found themselves confined to their homes, with restaurants, shops, schools, and workplaces shut down to prevent the disease from spread.2 For some, it meant additional changes, including working remotely, homeschooling children, and personal changes in lifestyle behaviors. Some of these, unfortunately, have led to increased sedentary activity and decreased physical activity, known risk factors associated with overweight and obesity.
For some groups, the transition to lockdown and social distancing has resulted in increased physical activity, especially for bodyweight training, and higher adherence to a healthier diet. Some individuals have engaged in higher consumption of farmers’ produce or purchasing of organic fruits and vegetables, resulting in lower body mass index.3 However, this has not been the norm. More studies report adults experiencing five-to-ten pound increases in weight as a result of increased eating in the home environment. The increased levels of stress, combined with the lack of dietary restraint, snacking after meals, reduced physical activity, and inadequate sleep has further aggravated the risk of overweight and obesity in our population.4 Some groups report less frequent consumption of vegetables, fruit, and legumes during the quarantine, and higher adherence to meat, dairy, and fast-foods.5 Anxiety, depression, self-reported boredom, and solitude have worsened the consumption of snacks, unhealthy foods, cereals, and sweets. These have correlated with higher weight gain for many.6
Being overweight not only increases the risk of infection and complications for those categorized as obese. Recent studies also suggest that the large prevalence of obese individuals within the population might increase the chance of appearance of the more virulent viral strain, and prolong the virus shedding throughout the total population. This may further increase the overall mortality rate as a result of COVID-19. A study on previous influenza pandemics suggests losing weight with a mild caloric restriction, including AMPK activators and PPAR gamma activators in the drug treatment for obesity-associated diabetes. Practicing mild-to-moderate physical exercise may further improve our immune response. Regular physical exercise enhances levels of cytokine production mediated via TLR (toll-like receptor) signaling pathways during microbial infection, improving host resistance to pathogen invasion.7 Regular physical activity may then serve as a cornerstone measure to improve our defenses against influenza viral infection, cardiometabolic diseases, and COVID-19.
Physical activity remains one of the seven modifiable health behaviors and an important metric of The American Heart Association (AHA) Life’s Simple 7 (LS7), associated with improved cardiovascular disease survival and reduced healthcare costs.8 As we battle the restrictions imposed by the pandemic, we have to also think that these circumstances present opportunities to engage our communities in healthy lifestyle practices. Practice aimed to increase our physical activity, may contribute to improving overall health status in the midst of the COVID pandemic.
Here are some ideas on how to meet the New Year resolution to exercise and increase our levels of physical activity:
- Move More
- Set up a timer or alarm to move at least once every hour.
- A good starting goal is to engage in physical activity at least 150 minutes a week. This represents three 50-minute sessions or five 30-minute sessions a week.
- Start slowly. Gradually build up to at least 30 minutes of activity on most or all days of the week.
- Check with your healthcare provider before beginning a physical activity program and follow their recommendations.
- Establish a routine
- Start with small changes.
- Make the time.
- Try to engage in exercising consistently at the same time every day and every week.
- Stick to the new routine for at least a month.
- Find a convenient time and place to do activities.
- Be flexible. If you miss an exercise opportunity, get back on track.
- Work physical activity or exercise session into your day in another way.
- Keep reasonable expectations of yourself and your physical activity or exercise routines.
- Reward or praise yourself for sticking to the changes.
- Use non-food items to reward yourself.
- Get support
- Find buddies or friends who are also making the same commitment to be fit and engage in physical activity.
- Invite others to join you on your journey.
- It becomes more fun when you exercise or move in a company.
- Learn more about physical activity
- Learn about additional/ alternate ways to engage in physical activity.
- Check out the American Heart Association resources at https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/fitness
Start the New Year with a commitment to better health by increasing activity and engaging in regular exercise. Engage others in exercise while keeping social distancing guidelines. Celebrate the small changes. Make a commitment to a Better You!
- Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Physical Activity Basics. Reviewed 2020 Nov 18. Accessed 2021 Jan 13. https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/index.htm
- Bhutani S, Cooper JA. COVID-19-Related Home Confinement in Adults: Weight Gain Risks and Opportunities. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2020;28(9):1576-1577. doi:10.1002/oby.22904
- Di Renzo L, Gualtieri P, Pivari F, et al. Eating habits and lifestyle changes during COVID-19 lockdown: an Italian survey. J Transl Med. 2020;18(1):229. Published 2020 Jun 8. doi:10.1186/s12967-020-02399-5
- Zachary Z, Brianna F, Brianna L, et al. Self-quarantine and weight gain related risk factors during the COVID-19 pandemic. Obes Res Clin Pract. 2020;14(3):210-216. doi:10.1016/j.orcp.2020.05.004
- Sidor A, Rzymski P. Dietary Choices and Habits during COVID-19 Lockdown: Experience from Poland. Nutrients. 2020;12(6):1657. Published 2020 Jun 3. doi:10.3390/nu12061657
- Pellegrini M, Ponzo V, Rosato R, et al. Changes in Weight and Nutritional Habits in Adults with Obesity during the “Lockdown” Period Caused by the COVID-19 Virus Emergency. Nutrients. 2020;12(7):2016. Published 2020 Jul 7. doi:10.3390/nu12072016
- Luzi L, Radaelli MG. Influenza and obesity: its odd relationship and the lessons for COVID-19 pandemic. Acta Diabetol. 2020;57(6):759-764. doi:10.1007/s00592-020-01522-8
- Garg PK, O’Neal WT, Mok Y, Heiss G, Coresh J, Matsushita K. Life’s Simple 7 and Peripheral Artery Disease Risk: The Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study. Am J Prev Med. 2018;55(5):642-649. doi:10.1016/j.amepre.2018.06.021
“The views, opinions and positions expressed within this blog are those of the author(s) alone and do not represent those of the American Heart Association. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them. The Early Career Voice blog is not intended to provide medical advice or treatment. Only your healthcare provider can provide that. The American Heart Association recommends that you consult your healthcare provider regarding your personal health matters. If you think you are having a heart attack, stroke or another emergency, please call 911 immediately.”
Catherina Chang Martinez is a Nurse Scientist at Baptist Health System South Florida. Her research interests include epidemiology, lifestyle and cardiometabolic health, and cardiovascular disease prevention. Member of AHA Council on Epidemiology and Prevention. She volunteers for the AHA FIT/Early Career Blogging program. You can follow her tweets @cmartinezphd.