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VanDillen: The Pandemic Is Leveling Out. Now What?

By Linda VanDillen

Thursday, May 21, 2020 | 413 | 1 | min read

Our employees may have become deconditioned over the past three months. According to a WebMD article regarding a Danish study on healthy aging, it takes just two weeks of physical inactivity for those who are physically fit to lose a significant amount of their muscle strength.

Linda VanDillen

Linda VanDillen

In that relatively short period of time, young people lose about 30% of their muscle strength, leaving them as strong as someone decades older. Meanwhile, active older people who become sedentary for a couple of weeks lose about 25% of their strength.

Even though older people lose less muscle mass and their level of fitness is reduced slightly less than young people, the loss of muscle mass is presumably more critical for older people because it is likely to have a greater impact on their general health and quality of life. It was noted in this study that it takes about three times the amount of time you were inactive to get your muscle mass back.

The sale of bicycles and exercise equipment was at an all-time high during this pandemic. We all saw people in our neighborhoods out for walks, riding their bikes, etc. However, it was most likely a small percentage of your neighbors, so I am assuming many of us may have gained a few pounds and lost a little muscle tone if we didn’t make up for the lack of outside work activities with a personal exercise program.

For example, many of us in the workers’ compensation industry were traveling frequently to conferences and meetings with clients. With the advent of this pandemic, there was a significant decrease in just our daily activity related to the discontinuation of travel. Add to this how our after-work life has been significantly constricted due to the pandemic. In most states, any activities other than trips to the pharmacy or grocery store for necessities were greatly curtailed.

Carly Ryan, of Exercise and Sports Science Australia, describes a plan to recover your cardio and strength fitness. She recommends aiming for approximately 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week. Take the stairs, do some active gardening or cleaning, or play in the park. Any activity is better than none, so whatever the reason for pressing pause on your routine, try to make up for it in other ways.

As we all prepare to hopefully get back to at least some of our activities, including getting back to working outside of the home, we will want to consider an action plan for getting back to our previous level of fitness.

What can we all do to get ready to return to work?

Let’s think about some of Ryan's suggestions for increasing our fitness levels.

  • Take it outside: Studies on getting active in nature have reported that some participants experienced higher levels of vitality, pleasure and self-esteem, and lower levels of tension, depression and fatigue after exercising outdoors. It is one of the few activities we can do safely with social distancing still in place.
  • Walk your dog (or someone else’s): Pets can be excellent furry exercise buddies, and the health benefits are twofold for you and your canine companion. A daily walk with your dog can improve your cardiovascular fitness, lower blood pressure, strengthen muscles and bones (built up by regular exercise) and decrease stress. Plus, a happy, tired dog means no more half-chewed running shoes!
  • Create a fitness calendar: Blocking out time in your diary for physical activity is the easiest way to ensure life doesn’t get in the way of your exercise plans. Draw up a weekly schedule that sets out each training session or class you’re committing to so they’re front-of-mind when you’re planning your day. Tracking your progress can be a great motivator, too. Write down your goals, check them off and notice how your motivation and confidence grows. When you see it in writing, it helps you to commit.
  • Grab a buddy: If you’ve arranged to meet a friend for a walk, workout or exercise class, I’m sure you’d agree that you’re more likely to keep that commitment. Not wanting to let the team down can be a great motivator, so use it to your advantage.
  • Self-care isn’t selfish: In fact, it’s essential to better health. Recently, the workers’ compensation community has been offered a variety of self-care treats, including a Mindful Monday training exercise session and Zoom sessions hosted by Women in WorkComp. We have all been through a lot — some of us more than others — and we can’t take care of our recovering workers effectively if we cannot take care of ourselves.

What can employers and insurers do?

Consider the use of ergonomic analysis by a certified ergonomic assessment specialist (CEAS) to assist with injury prevention. Ergonomics is best explained as the relationship of people to their tools, tasks and work environment. The goal is to learn how to avoid, reduce or eliminate the risk factors from our day-to-day activities.

We will all be re-configuring workspaces and it will be important to ensure these spaces do not increase the risk factors for musculoskeletal disorders (injuries or disorders that affect the human body’s movement or musculoskeletal system).

Consider providing a general ergonomic refresher training course for your stay-home, work-safe staff or those returning to the worksite. These refresher courses can be conducted through a webinar or Zoom session for multiple participants at one time.

As we discussed earlier, your employees have been out of the workforce for the past three months and their physical conditioning may be equal to an older adult at this time. The following recommendations are usually made for older adults in the workforce. However, these recommendations can benefit all employees, young and old, as you ready your workplace for re-entry.

  • Enhance lighting.
  • Install slip-resistant flooring and repair uneven surfaces.
  • Install handrails, and increase contrast for stair edges and curbs.
  • Reduce clutter.
  • Utilize noise-dampening materials (e.g., on the factory floor).
  • Set up wellness and exercise programs; reduce physical stress on the body.
  • Make available information and support for common health problems that may affect older workers or those experiencing an unprecedented level of stress.

Resources are available from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health on (Total Worker Health). The TWH approach advocates for a holistic understanding of the factors that contribute to worker well-being. Keeping workers safe is the foundation upon which a TWH approach is built.

Also, for a fun way to encourage micro-breaks, consider using the Get Up Offa That Thing desk stretches poster.

Linda VanDillen, a registered nurse and certified case manager, is vice president of communications for CompAlliance Managed Care.

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