How Can People Over 70 Stay Healthy During Self-Isolation?

Dr Gemma Newman

We are certainly going through challenging times that were hard to predict.

Due to the spread of the virus SARS-Cov-2, which causes the infection Covid-19, we are now, at the time of writing, in lockdown. Classed as a pandemic by the World Health Organisation, this new type of coronavirus means we have to stay at home. The government has also announced that everyone over the age of 70 are likely to have to stay at home for up to an unknown number of months to help reduce the chance of them becoming infected. Millions of vulnerable people already face having to stay indoors to avoid a virus that could have dire consequences to their health and may even cost their life. How to cope through all of this? It is hard. A challenge unparalleled in peace time history. But incredibly many of my patients who are in the older generation have taken these announcements in their stride. Perhaps with memories of wartime struggle for their own parents and childhood memories of times like this, the stoicism I have seen has been absolutely incredible. But loneliness and immobility was a problem for many of my older patients before enforced quarantine. This is why having as much information as possible to help you stay healthy and happy and to keep your joints supple is crucial at this time. So, with that in mind, here are my top tips to keep you sane and keeping your body in physical fitness during these next few challenging weeks.

What to do to ease the pain of arthritis?

Healthy Foods to Keep Your Spirits Up

It is hard to motivate yourself to make delicious and healthy meals for one. But study data shows healthy foods can really help improve the pain of inflammatory and osteoarthritis. How to make healthy meals easy? Get inspired with me! Having the right building blocks for a healthy body and a fully functioning immune system is a wonderful way to feel empowered to greater health. I am a big fan of more plant-based meals, packed with fruit, vegetables, whole grains and legumes, to give you the perfect ingredients for reducing the risk of diabetes, heart disease and of course, arthritis. Foods rich in polyphenols, vitamins and minerals are the perfect choice to make you feel good as you get creative in the kitchen. The World Cancer Research Fund classes fruits, veggies, grains and beans as the perfect foods to minimise cancer risk – thankfully many of these can be found fresh and canned for our convenience.

An indoor fitness regimen will be vital

Stand up every 15 minutes, or four times an hour. More often if you can! Walk between rooms of the house. Use baked bean tins as mini weights. Basically, use anything you can think of to keep those muscles moving. This will be vital to reduce risk of losing muscle mass and avoiding frailty. Pumping iron is not just for young beef cakes you know!

Why the fuss? Making new muscle fibres doesn’t just keep you strong, but it can also reduce your risk of dementia, improve your concentration and lift your mood. Your body is a heavy weight, so you can use that if you don’t want to buy dumb-bells. If you have a garden, walk around it at least three times a day. Gardening can become a new passion if it wasn’t already! If you have a computer look up a yoga class to try, it is never too late to improve balance and posture. I am a fan of the 4-minute nitric oxide workout, a link to which can be found on my website

Try something simple to get you started;

  • 5 squats,
  • 5 calf raises,
  • 5 arm raises with a tin,
  • 5 jumping jacks (without jumping for those of you with balance issues, just the arm swings) and a plank for 5 seconds.

This can be on your knees if you need to. Gradually increase the amount of seconds you hold it each day

Vitamin D Supplementation

Self-isolation makes it tough to get enough vitamin D. We make this hormone mostly through exposure to the sunshine, and it can improve kidney and immune function. It is important for bone strength too, and is a vital ingredient in the management of arthritis and osteoporosis. Muscle cells have special receptors for Vitamin D in their nucleus, which promote muscle growth and can also improve balance. Having adequate Vitamin D levels will therefore also reduce your risk of falls. Having a low Vitamin D level is a recognised predictor of falls in older people, with associations between low vitamin D and muscle weakness, impaired balance and accelerated loss of muscle mass. This means Vitamin D can not only keep bones healthy and reduce the impact of a fall, but also reduce the risk of that fall occurring in the first place. I would advise unless you know your Vitamin D levels, a simple vitamin D3 1000iu supplement daily should be adequate.

Consider a short-term housemate

If two people over 70 who have not been exposed to the virus or other people for the previous fortnight decide to move in together, and can do so safely, it’s a really good way of limiting their loneliness. By way of comparison, if a husband and wife of the same age live together they would not be expected to be apart from one another – unless one of them had symptoms. There is a slight theoretical risk from previous food package exposures when one person moves in with another, but face to face transmission and infrequent hand washing are the biggest risks. So weighing these up against the severe harms loneliness can cause to our immune system is an individual choice.

If you have a friend or neighbour nearby of a similar age who you get along with and could live with during these months, why not? You can provide much needed solace and conversation, someone to look out for you and for whom to keep getting dressed, preparing meals, and enjoy being around. You can laugh over your favourite TV shows, cook together and hold each other accountable to get moving.

Alternatively – what about deciding to be ‘Virtual housemates?’ At a time when you will have to be physically apart from those you care about most, having a friend you can call upon, and share daily routine with, is a marvellous idea. Getting computer savvy will be a great way of connecting with your relatives too – Skype or Zoom will be easy to install, or you can ask someone to do it for you. Perhaps get a Facebook Account and look for local community groups who will be able to help you, or use the NHS Volunteer service to have things you need delivered to your door.

House Plants and Bringing Nature Home

If you can’t get out in nature, let nature come to you! At the current time it is unclear whether social distancing (being two metres apart from others) will be enough of a precaution for those of you who are fit and who enjoy the great outdoors, but if guidance is for staying inside completely, bringing the benefits of the outdoors into your home will be great for physical and mental wellbeing. The World Health Organisation lists air pollution, including indoors, as one of the most significant and progressive risks to our health. Indoor air pollution can be created from everyday life, such as using air fresheners and deodorisers, lighting fires in an open fireplace, cooking food at high temperatures, damp and mould, and painting a room with fresh paint. All those bleaches and cleaning products are not good for our lungs. Plants are great air cleaners and can filter out toxins and pollutants like benzene, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene, xylene, and ammonia from the air. These toxic chemicals that have been linked to many health issues. Buying a lovely peace lily will bring a little fresh air as well as peace of mind!

There may also be mental health benefits from just looking at plants too. Research from the Netherlands recruited 46 people in an experiment designed to see how looking at images containing nature could settle a person’s anxiety. When participants saw the green space in the images, their stress levels lowered, and although the images did not prevent stress, they certainly seemed to minimise its effect. Why not paint a picture of nature, or hang a photo of your favourite place to visit, something to look forward to once the Coronoavirus crisis is a distant memory…

Above all, my wish for you is to remember your worth. Using this time to reflect on all the ways in which you have helped people in your lifetime, things you will look forward to once this crisis has passed, and most importantly the ways you can look after yourself and connect with your friends at the current time. This will be an important way to make the time pass more easily. And will no doubt make these hardest of times that little bit easier.