It has been six months since the COVID-19 pandemic has forced global lockdowns and quarantines. Experts suggest half a year of physical and social isolation will likely have a long-lasting impact on our bodies and minds.

As reported by CNN, prolonged isolation causes muscle loss, weakened heart, and lungs, increased fat, bad posture, poor sleep, and slowed brain function.

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The underlying cause is inactivity – sitting all day, often inside with no direct sunlight, greater access to foods, and increased stress all harm the body.

The benefits of daily exercise are well-documented and are needed now more than ever to maintain muscle mass and healthy heart, lung, and brain function. Home exercise regimes are a great alternative to gyms and workout spaces, many of which are still closed or operating at limited capacity.

Overall body movement is critical as more people work from home. Brandon Brown, an epidemiologist and associate professor in the Center for Healthy Communities at the University of California-Riverside, told CNN people should get up from their seat once an hour, walking around and stretch, or even lay on the floor to “let your back readjust.”

Exercise affects mood, self-esteem, and brain function. Exercise produces certain chemicals in the brain that break down toxins and even prevent them from killing brain cells, according to Keith Baar, a professor of molecular exercise physiology at the University of California-Davis, as reported by CNN.

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In addition to lack of exercise, the social isolation caused by the pandemic has an effect on our bodies, even affecting mortality rates.

“People who are more socially connected show less inflammation, conversely people who are more isolated and lonely show increased chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation has been implicated in a variety of chronic diseases,” Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Brigham Young University, told The Guardian. “We also have evidence that this is linked to cardiovascular function like blood pressure, heart rate, circulating stress hormones. It’s been linked to even cellular aging.”

The COVID-19 pandemic is also severely damaging our mental health. Since the start of the pandemic, there has been a more-than-threefold increase in the percentage of American adults who reported symptoms of psychological distress according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University.

Experts recommended daily exercise or movement (home exercise videos, virtual group fitness, walking or jogging outside with masks) and frequent yet safe social interactions (call, write, text, video, etc) to combat the physiological and psychological effects of prolonged isolation.

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Read CDC’s recommendations for coping during the pandemic and about protecting yourself from coronavirus.

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