Staying Physically Active during COVID-19 using Exercise as Medicine

Tuesday July 20, 2021

Staying Physically Active during COVID-19 using Exercise as Medicine

COVID-19 cases continue to rise across the United States and people are being asked to stay at home as we try to contain the spread of the virus.  As a result, people have been consistently missing their regular run, bike ride, or gym session and might start noticing some aches and pains showing up. This might have the beginnings of deconditioning.  Exercise is a "use it or lose it" kind of thing, and deconditioning is the process by which we "lose it.”

 How long does it take to decondition? As with most things related to a system as complex as the human body, it depends. According to the ACSM, two weeks without exercise can lead to significant loss of cardiovascular fitness. Two to eight months of detraining can erase virtually all of your gains. This varies dependent on age, health and previous level of activity.  Recent evidence suggests that physical activity levels have decreased by ~30% and sitting time has increased by ~30%. This is a major concern as physical inactivity and sedentary behaviors are risk factors for cardiovascular disease, obesity, cancer, diabetes, hypertension, bone and joint disease, depression and premature death. Physical inactivity alone results in over 3 million deaths per year5 and a global burden of US$50 billion.

 Immediate action is required to facilitate physical activity during the COVID-19 pandemic because it is an effective form of medicine to promote good health, prevent disease and bolster immune function.  As illustrated, adults are spending more time at home, moving less and sitting more. Physical activity provides numerous health benefits, some of which may even help directly combat the effects of COVID-19. For substantial health benefits, adults should engage in 150–300 min of moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity each week and limit the time spent sitting. The recommended levels of physical activity are safely attainable even at home. Sedentary behavior can be further reduced by breaking up prolonged sitting with short active breaks.


Exercise is Medicine Infographic


This infographic offers the importance of engaging in physical activity during the COVID-19 pandemic.  If you're having those aches and pains due to inactivity or need help designing a safe program to either maintain your fitness or gain it back, your physical therapist can help. Injury and illness are other common reasons for detraining. Your PT can not only help you recover faster, but they can also find activities to maintain your fitness while safely working around an injury or illness.


The information in this article was taken from the British Journal of Sports Medicine article “Infographic. Stay physically active during COVID – 19 with exercise as medicine” as well as the APTA.