The lockdown is turning people into couch potatoesStuck inside their homes, many are spending hours on the couch and in front of screens, increasing the risk of various health issues.
Ever since the lockdown was implemented, Hari Shakya hasn’t left his home unless it’s for something essential, such as getting medicine for his diabetes or for food. At home, the 50-year-old spends most of his time in front of the laptop, working from home or watching movies. When he is not in front of the computer, he is on the couch, either eating or watching television.
For the past three weeks, Shakya’s daily routine has become pretty much the same: spending excessive amounts of time lying down, moving from bed to desk to couch. Only recently has Shakya started to realise that being stuck at home might be taking a toll on his health.
“Every morning, before heading to work, I used to go for a walk,” he said. “However, the pandemic and the confinement measures have disrupted my routine and, unknowingly, I have turned into a couch potato. As a result, I’ve been suffering from constipation.”
The Covid-19 pandemic has thrown everyone’s life into disarray, and as a means to control the spread of the disease, the public has been requested to stay at home. But being stuck at home for prolonged periods of time has not only disrupted lives and schedules but also given rise to sedentary behaviours. As a result, doctors are concerned about the negative effects that low levels of physical activity and a sedentary lifestyle can have on the health and well-being of individuals.
Physical inactivity has always been regarded as the greatest public health problem, even before the quarantine. The World Health Organisation estimates that globally, 23 percent of adults and 81 percent of adolescents aged 11-17 years were already insufficiently inactive, but new reports have shown that more people are likely to embrace sedentary lifestyles while in quarantine. The Washington Post found that people are often spending as much as eight hours on their mobile phone while in quarantine.
“With nowhere to go and nothing to do, it is easy to get tempted to just curl up on the couch with a mobile device or to just read a book the whole day,” said Vijaya Khanal, an associate professor at the BP Koirala Institute of Health Sciences. “However, these habits can be dangerous.”
Various studies have found a correlation between prolonged sedentary behaviour and health complications. A 2016 research paper found that a sedentary lifestyle was associated with a decline in immune functions in males while a 2015 study found that physical inactivity is one of the leading risk factors for heart disease, diabetes, cancer and death.
According to Jamuna Maharjan, a clinical psychologist at the Transcultural Psychosocial Organization, the psychological impact of self-quarantine can be behind people’s sedentary behaviours.
“As the corona pandemic and quarantine are unusual phenomena, people are dealing with their surroundings according to their mental state,” said Maharjan. “Since people are stressed, they prefer to get peace of mind by doing nothing.”
Like many others, Shakya also said that he is suffering from stress and anxiety.
“When I watch news channels, everything is about Covid-19. I feel like we are living in a hostile environment and as a result, I don’t feel like doing anything,” he said.
Anxiety and stress have not only made the people inactive but also excessive overeaters.
“Since people are at home, they can easily access the kitchen at all times. Many people are also coping with anxiety, stress and boredom by eating more than they usually do, and as a result, gaining excessive amounts of weight,” said Maharjan.
Sofia Thapa said that since the lockdown, she has put on three kilograms.
“When I went to the office, I used to be diet conscious. But at home, my mother brings me food every three hours and I find myself eating everything,” said Thapa, who works in an IT company.
A 2018 research paper shows that sedentary behaviour, low physical activity level and unhealthy dietary patterns are risk factors for obesity.
Although the quarantine can cause stress and difficulties in being active, both Khanal and Maharjan said that this should not prevent them from exercising.
Exercise has been shown to have both physical and mental health benefits for individuals. Although there is a restriction on people’s movement, there are different forms of exercise that can be done at home.
The World Health Organisation has recommended a number of activities that can be done at home and which require no special equipment—dancing, playing with children and performing domestic chores such as cleaning and gardening. Walking in the house, chair squats, sit-ups and pushups, lifting and carrying groceries can also help ensure physical activity.
Doctors also recommend eating more fruits and vegetables while limiting the intake of salt, sugar and fat in order to maintain healthy lifestyles.