COVID-19 and Hypertension: Staying Active while Sheltering in Place

Staying active at home


Coronavirus looks like it is here to stay for a while as the number of cases continues to climb, and the number of locations affected is widening. Authorities are getting ready for the long haul as schools, gyms, bars, and more businesses are closing for weeks or more, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends canceling or postponing gatherings of 50 or more people for the next 8 weeks starting March 15 (that takes us to May 10, for anyone who is counting).

It appears that the new normal will be staying at home as much as possible to avoid public places and contact with too many people. This is already a change for people who are used to attending events and socializing. For people with hypertension, staying at home poses another challenge: being physically active. Lark can help with blood pressure management, including working towards physical activity goals, during the COVID-19 outbreak and beyond.

COVID-19 Risk with Hypertension


The CDC warns that certain groups of people are at high risk for COVID-19 infections and for more serious infections that can lead to hospitalizations and the need for ventilation. These include adults over 65 years, individuals with lung disease or asthma, and people with underlying conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and lung disease. 

Patients with high blood pressure may also be at higher risk, as suggested by early analysis of China’s outbreak. High blood pressure increases strain on the heart because the heart needs to work harder to pump blood against the higher pressure. This may be related to the increased risk for severe cases of coronavirus seen among people with hypertension. In addition, the virus can wreak havoc on blood pressure levels for people on ACE inhibitors and some other antihypertensive medications. 

Sticking to your hypertension management plan, including by using Lark for Hypertension and by making generally healthy lifestyle choices, can help maintain health during this time, even if your usual daily routine has been shaken.

Physical Activity and Hypertension Management


Physical activity can lower blood pressure by several points systolic and diastolic. The effects are relatively short-lived, lasting only about 1 to 2 days, so exercising most days is the most helpful approach. Aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking, hiking, and bicycling, as well as resistance training, such as lifting weights and doing body weight exercises such as push-ups, both lower blood pressure.

Staying active also helps with weight control, which can be important in hypertension if you are overweight. Losing extra pounds can lower blood pressure. Lark for Hypertension includes the option to have weight loss coaching as part of your personalized program to manage blood pressure.

Physical Activity and COVID-19


There are other reasons to stay active during the COVID-19 outbreak when you have hypertension, even during shelter-in-place and other social distancing measures. Exercise:

  • Lifts mood, which is critical when faced with the challenge of staying inside and finding alternative activities to do to substitute for some of your usual ones.
  • Improves cholesterol profile, which is important in hypertension since high cholesterol and high blood pressure are both risk factors for heart disease.
  • Helps you sleep better and manage stress better, which can both be difficult when schedules are disrupted.

Though things may seem different while you are exercising during the coronavirus outbreak, some things are the same. For instance, it is critical to continue to monitor blood pressure as carefully as ever, to make sure you are staying healthy. In addition, taking medications exactly as your doctor prescribes them can help you stay away from the doctor’s office or hospital at this time when many people are going to be needing the facilities.

Outdoor Activities


That leaves the question: what can you do to stay fit if you are locked out of the gym or are stuck indoors? Swimming, team sports, and group fitness classes at the gym are out of the question while sheltering in place or staying at least 6 feet away from others, but there are plenty of other indoors and outdoors options that you can do by yourself.

Outdoor activities are safest if you can stay at least 6 feet away from other people. Walking, bicycling (safely!), hiking, and jogging let you get fresh air without coming into contact with others. If you need company, phoning a friend while exercising can do the trick. 

Meeting a friend at the park for tennis or to work out together while staying a few feet apart are some other choices. Just be sure to clean hands and wipe down equipment before and after.

Indoor Activities


Exercising indoors can be preferable for reasons such as needing to watch the kids, avoiding poor weather, feeling safer in your own home, or simply preferring indoor activities to the great outdoors. If you already have a treadmill, elliptical, or stationary bike, you are good to go with your cardio workout. 

If you are not yet set up for working out at home, it is not that difficult to get started. These are some options for workouts if you have absolutely no equipment.

  • Aerobics or dancing on your own or with workout videos.
  • Circuits with push-ups, squats, front and side lunges, calf raíses, squats, jumping jacks, crunches, planks, and any other exercise you can think of to get moving. Going from one exercise to another without resting can get your heart rate up faster, and you can alternate more intense ones with less intense ones to get a break while still moving.
  • Yoga and mat pilates.
  • Joining an online or virtual class, such as zumba or other dance exercise class.

There is some inexpensive equipment you can purchase that can help you work out if you want. Resistance bands, a pair of dumbbells, or a kettlebell can give you a good resistance training session and cost less than $20. A step platform can give you a more intense aerobic workout without the high impact of jumping.

To fight boredom, it can help to watch the news, a movie, or TV programs while working out. If you like, there are some streaming services that let you take exercise classes live while watching the instructor online. There are also services that offer a variety of exercise classes and workouts whenever you like.

Breaking Up Sitting Time


Staying at home more may make it easier to sit around more: on the couch watching television, while working from home, and reading or playing board or card games with family members. It is now more than ever that you can benefit from being aware of sitting for too long without moving. 

  • Mimicking the office environment can help increase activity. For example, instead of walking to chat with a coworker or walking to the break room for coffee as you might while in the office, you could walk around the house while talking on the phone to colleagues or before heading to the kitchen for a drink of water.
  • Enabling notifications on your phone lets Lark remind you if you have been sitting for long periods of time.
  • Setting up your computer at a standing desk, or making a makeshift standing desk simply by putting the laptop on a countertop for a while to work, can allow you to engage a few more muscles and move around a bit.

Stopping the spread of COVID-19 may take unprecedented changes to daily routines, but staying healthy through it all is still a priority. With hypertension, physical activity is essential to optimal health, so it is a good idea to prepare for working out on your own. Lark for Hypertension can help you track activity and stay motivated to take great care of yourself.

References

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. People Who Are at Higher Risk for Severe Illness. Reviewed March 22, 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/specific-groups/people-at-higher-risk.html
  2. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/clinical-guidance-management-patients.html
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Natalie Stein

Exercise, Fitness & Nutrition Expert | Assistant Professor of Public Health

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