COVID-19: How to manage physical distancing if you are an older person


For those who are still young at heart, here are three key areas to help maintain your wellbeing during this time.

As an older person, physical distancing might either be a welcome change from the hustle and bustle of life, or it may be taking a toll on you in many ways. Don’t despair, because the world is more connected than ever and if you’re reading this, it means you have a helping hand.

There are three key areas to maintain your wellbeing during this time:
1. Physical activity
2. Food and nutrition
3. Your mental wellbeing

  1. Physical activity
    Try to stay active, in safe doses and spaces: If you are well, a brisk walk, if you are able to manage 15 minutes a day, does wonders for your mood and fitness. Try to walk around your garden if you have one, or around the house, pausing at windows to get some fresh air in. You can do this while chatting to a friend, a fitness buddy who doesn’t have to be in your physical space, but who you can call on online.
    Do moderate, risk free exercises: It isn’t the time to take on a new exercise regime, but stretching and yoga can be relatively safe if you stay in your comfort zone.
  2. Food and nutrition
    While there aren’t specific foods that stop the spread of viruses, you can boost your immune system with healthy foods. The International Society for Immunonutrition suggests a diverse and well-balanced diet rich in fruit and vegetables to increase the intake of antioxidant and associated nutrients that can support immune function.

    They do recommend that for older people, additional small doses of Vitamin E, Zinc, Vitamin C and particularly for those people with low serum vitamin D status, can be taken according to your doctor’s advice or naturally through food. These nutrients have been shown to enhance T cell and B cell (antibody) immunity in human studies including in the elderly.
    Try to avoid alcohol and take your chronic medication as per normal.
  3. Mental wellbeing
    There is research that shows this is a trying time for older people who have to stay home, often by yourselves, but as globally, we know that Covid-19 has presented all human beings with a mind shift, and a routine and life change.
    Getting enough sleep, practicing resilience and mindfulness exercises, meditation and breathwork, can be helpful. You can source this online in a format of your choice – guided practices or apps, like Calm and Headspace. Writing in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, Callista Ottoni writes: "In my experience, mindful breathing is helpful to feel calm. Try this:
    1. Find a comfortable seated position.
    2. Put one hand on your chest and one on your belly.
    3. Take a few slow breathes in and out. Feel both your chest and belly expand.
    4. If you don’t feel dizzy (in which case stop immediately and resume normal breathing), trying inhaling through your nose while counting to 4 in your head, then exhale through your nose while counting to 4 in your head. Repeat 5-10 times.
    For instruction on different breathing activities I’ve used Carolyn Anne Budgell’s free guided meditations.”

Additional tips from Discovery Wellness Doctor Seranne Motilal around general stay home practises are:

  • Hand hygiene – wash with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or use hand sanitiser regularly. Try not to touch your face.
  • Clean frequently touched surfaces in your home often, including medical equipment, walkers, canes and handrails.
  • Call your doctor if you develop any symptoms (cough, fever, difficulty breathing)

"Maintain contact with family and friends. Use phone calls and video calls to communication, and ask family members to show you how these work if you don’t know. I would also limit time watching TV or using social media, and rather keep your mind active and cognitively working, puzzles, crosswords and even online mind games can be helpful,” she says.

"Don’t be afraid to reach out to someone. The is social cohesion and connectivity even in this time of physical distancing,” she says.

For more information, visit our dedicated COVID-19 webpage. Keep an eye on the NICD and WHO websites for further updates.

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