Expert opinion on the consequences of the coronavirus crisis for health and recreation - tips for home
University of Bayreuth, Press release No. 039/2020, 19 March 2020
Prof. Dr. Susanne Tittlbach is chair of Sport Science III - Social & Health Sciences in Sports at the University of Bayreuth. She is significantly involved in the development of the "Smart Moving" program, which makes everyday study more active and healthier. In an interview, she analyzes the consequences that social isolation at home can have on health, and gives advice on how people of all ages can still stay on the move.
Prof. Dr. Susanne Tittlbach, Chair of Sports Science III Social & Health Sciences of Sports at the University of Bayreuth. © UBT
Students are staying at home until the end of the Easter holidays, and it all feels like a curfew. How do I get my child off the mobile phone?
Every bit of exercise, no matter how small, is good and worthwhile! Housing circumstances and the age of the children naturally play a major role. If there is a garden, children should be in the garden as much as possible, as there is more space to let off some steam, run, jump, and play ball. If there is no garden, the kids should get inventive and creative in the apartment. And keep on getting up again and again, and setting themselves rules: e.g. doing school work sitting down, reading standing up in another room, hopping while watching TV etc. And why not link it to digital media?
Parents should not see these media as the enemy, but use them to make exercise more attractive with media. So, perhaps strapping their own fitness tracker to their child and setting them the task of getting to 1,000 steps. Or creating a challenge to do so: Who can manage more steps in the apartment over the day, Dad or the kid? A weekly plan on the fridge to document the number of steps every day is additional motivation. And for younger children, dance games and apps with game ideas are highly suitable. All in all, the general rule for younger children is that the fun factor should be as high as possible.
And for teenagers?
A functional training course via app will certainly not motivate children very much, but that’s not the case with older children and teenagers, whose motive to exercise is often body shaping or muscle growth. To create a program like this at home, there are excellent exercises involving own bodyweight. Apart from that, all I really need is a mat or a carpet and exercise instructions, of which there are plenty on the Net.
What can you recommend to pupils and students who are forced to study at home more during the break in classes or lectures?
In the Smart Moving project, which aims at increasing exercise and reducing sitting time for students, and which is being carried out by the University of Bayreuth in cooperation with Kompetenzzentrum Ernährung (Kern - Competence Center for Nutrition), the University of Regensburg and Techniker Krankenkasse (a public health fund), ideas for more exercise and less sitting down were developed on the Bayreuth and Regensburg campuses. In the current situation, the videos created in this context can help students studying at home, but also schoolchildren and adults, in minimizing sitting time. You can find these videos here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLq8ER4S3y9W60FspnRyPJt1dK-AFJWKyC
What do I do as an older person?
As long as walks on your own are still permitted, older people should take advantage of this option. Walking is a kind of total body workout which addresses endurance, strength, and coordination. It is very worthwhile. If walking should no longer be allowed, or an older person is in quarantine: enjoy some fresh air on the balcony or by the open window. And there are exercises to do here too: Those who can still stand well can hold on to the window frame and perform modest gymnastic exercises, e.g. shifting weight from one leg to the other, slight knee bends, extending one leg and pulling it up and then changing legs, or both legs firmly on the floor and slowly rotating the upper body to the right and left. Everybody should do as much as their individual strength allows - even the smallest of movements are useful! Or while sitting: Pedal movements or crossing extended legs. Change your position as often as possible, even just standing up, or walking up and down when talking on the phone, etc. This gets the circulation going, too, and gets you active!
If people now have to stay at home for weeks on end, do you fear any consequences, such as an obesity epidemic?
Actually, we already have an obesity epidemic in our society, or an obesity pandemic worldwide. The only difference to the current pandemic is that the disease is not transmissible in the sense of a viral infection. Obesity, diabetes etc. are not contagious, yet they are responsible for a large number of deaths worldwide. Often this is underestimated because on the face of it, it does not seem as threatening as the virus does now. The rate of obesity in society is not only determined by physical activity, but also by dietary habits. In my view, it would therefore be important for people to be made aware of how important a balanced, healthy diet is, at this time in particular, in order to reduce the health consequences of lock-ins as far as possible.
What is it you worry about?
The longer the lock-in lasts, the greater the danger that people’s behaviour will change (even more) towards the inactive side of the scale. We know from studies that making a change in behaviour towards more exercise, healthier food, quitting smoking etc. is a very long, intensive process, and that the difficult phases (psychologically as well) are at the beginning of the behavioural change. A person who has just managed to integrate their weekly fitness training firmly into their weekly schedule, who has found a social group in which they feel comfortable while training, will have great difficulty reactivating the whole thing after the lock-in. It is therefore to be feared that there will be an even greater drop-out rate from exercise programmes (e.g. by health insurance companies, fitness studios, sports clubs), even after we have resumed our social lives.
You deal with the "social sciences of sport": What can a "lock-in" mean socially?
It's interesting that you only notice what you have in something, and what it gives you, when suddenly it’s gone. That's how people will feel when they stop participating in top sporting competitions, but also in training groups for popular sports. The social functions of sport, also in terms of integration and inclusion, will be lost for the lock-in period. Social contacts will therefore be lacking - especially for those who live alone and have no opportunities for family contact. For many people, whether actively participating or inactive as spectators, sport is a place of social relations. The identity-giving processes for participants or inactive spectators and fans of sport are immense, and this is now missing. To feel part of the training group is only possible during training. Feeling part of the fan group of a well-known football team works best when you are a spectator in the stadium, in the clubhouse, or at a public screening - always in a social context. In my opinion, however, sport will not lose this meaning, not even in the face of COVID19. It will be possible to reactivate this.
Prof. Dr. Susanne Tittlbach
Chair of Sport Science III - Social & Health Sciences
University of Bayreuth
Phone: +49 (0) 921/ 55-3461 / -3485
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University of Bayreuth
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