Self-quarantine doesn’t have to be house arrest
By now, you’ve probably heard or read all you need to know about self-quarantining and social distancing – and then some. But one thing you haven’t heard is that precautionary measures like these can be a double-edged sword. On one hand, self-isolation can help protect the age group most susceptible to COVID-19 – people age 70 and older – from infection. But on the other hand, it can be bad for your emotional, cognitive, and even physical health.
There’s a vicious cycle at work: Sitting home virtually alone can generate stress, depression and anxiety, especially in a time of officially declared pandemic. Those feelings increase activity in the prefrontal cortex – the part of the brain that focuses on repetitive negative thoughts. “When people are depressed or under high levels of stress, this part of the brain malfunctions, and people experience a continuous loop of negative thoughts,” says Dr. Jason Strauss, director of geriatric psychiatry at Cambridge Health Alliance. And that produces more stress.
But breaking this cycle can be as easy as a walk in the park. Literally.
A 2015 study showed that going for a nice nature walk could lower that stress-inducing prefrontal cortex activity. What’s more, interacting with natural spaces can lower blood pressure and levels of cortisol, the stress hormone that stimulates the body’s fight-or-flight response.
Dr. Strauss recommends “[a]nything from 20 to 30 minutes, three days a week.” Even sitting at home and listening to natural sounds (live or recorded) can have a similar effect.
Considering how the Coronavirus is spread, walking or running outside, or even doing yoga there, is actually safer than being indoors – provided you maintain six feet of distance from everyone else. So solo walks or runs are better than with a group. In fact, 30 to 60 minutes of moderate to brisk walking or running can boost your immune system’s ability to ward off viruses. (But don’t overdo it; long-distance runs, such as half-marathons, deplete your body’s supply of glycogen, which your immune system needs to maintain your resistance.)
If you have any questions about coping with the Coronavirus outbreak, or your retirement years in general, please feel free to call or email us. Just as we always have, we’ll be happy to give you honest, objective answers.