On the suggestion of her US-based daughter-in-law, 72-year-old Harinder Ahluwalia finally started taking online fitness classes to lose weight when the coronavirus lockdown was first imposed in Delhi. Months later, Ahluwalia, a retired nurse with 38 years of experience, has managed to shed about 20 kilos. “I initially thought it would be challenging to work out while continuously looking at a screen. But the trainer first demonstrates and makes sure practitioners understand the exercises before doing them,” said Harinder, who attends one-hour-long exercise sessions of yoga and cardio, six days a week on HealthifyMe’s HealthifyStudio that offers curated live workout sessions catering to the special needs of senior citizens. On Sundays, there are half-hour sessions of chair exercises. This is coupled with one and a half hours of walk and a controlled diet.
“I feel energetic when I work out. Given the pandemic, online classes are good. I enjoy group workouts since other people are there to interact and learn from,” said Delhi-based Ahluwalia, who earlier used to practice yoga to ease knee pain.
Many senior citizens, aged 60 and above, suffer from chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, hypertension, and diabetes, which require long-term medication. In such a scenario, regular exercise is considered useful. In its health advisory for elderly population, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India stated that elderly people are at a higher risk of COVID-19 infection due to their decreased immunity and body reserves, as well as multiple associated co-morbidities like diabetes, hypertension, chronic kidney disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and the severity of the disease can be detrimental. It advised senior citizens to “exercise and meditate”.
According to experts, exercise can help boost the body’s immune functions, decrease inflammation, and also has mental and emotional benefits.
Rishabh Telang, fitness expert, Curefit, said, “Exercise is important for people irrespective of age or fitness background purely because movement ensures increased blood flow in the muscles and joints and keeps one protected for a longer period of time besides providing many other benefits such as improved heart health. The idea of exercise is to ensure smooth functional movement patterns at any age and more and more people falling under the category of older adults have realised the benefits of engaging in exercises such as walking, yoga, basic strength training and more.”
The Union Social Justice and Empowerment Ministry in April 2020 issued advisory for senior citizens to stay at home, avoid visitors, maintain one-metre distance, if necessary, but remain active inside their homes, including doing light exercises and yoga, given that they are considered more vulnerable to the respiratory infection.
In fact, in a short study published in JMIR Publications in May 2020, Impact of home quarantine on physical activity among older adults living at home during the COVID-19 Pandemic: Qualitative Interview Study, despite the decline in their participation in group physical activities before the quarantine, older adults expressed the need to perform physical activity at home. ‘There is a need to help older adults integrate simple and safe ways to stay physically active in a limited space,’ observed the study.
Call it the effect of such advisories, more time during the lockdown, or to keep themselves physically active, senior citizens have been taking online sessions. While most of them may not be new to exercising, it is the first time that they have gone online
Sixty-one-year-old Nasik-based Rajesh Shankarrao Girme had been working out in a gym set up for the past 35 years, but lockdown put a stop to that. However, instead of online classes, he used his Gold Gym’s membership to avail workout videos that enabled him to continue doing functional training as well as yoga on alternate days for an hour. “It is the motivation to keep staying fit, lockdown or not that pushed me to watch these videos and practice. Before the lockdown, I never ever practiced with a video playing in front of me,” said Girme, who has been doing Mixed Martial Arts, yoga and crossfit among others.
Sarmila Bhowmik, 63, who flew to Kolkata from Pune just before the lockdown was announced in March 2020, was trying to figure out ways to keep herself active. A homemaker, who has been gymming for almost 25 years now, Bhowmik was “initially not too happy” with online workouts as she is used to “hardcore gymming”. But the sheer energy of a group workout motivated her to continue. “We don’t have any other activity at home. I don’t feel inspired to exercise on my own. But with a group, it is far more streamlined. While being in a gym is an experience I miss, online classes have been a boon amid the lockdown, especially with no facilities available,” remarked Sarmila.
Not just online platforms, but even yoga experts like Ira Trivedi, are conducting virtual workout sessions via Zoom to help senior citizens get back on their fitness routines. She limits her classes to 20-25 people to ensure “personal attention and care”.
Notably, The Seniors Covid-19 Pandemic and Exercise study undertaken by the University of Victoria and sponsored by the University of British Columbia is ongoing with an aim to evaluate different types of exercise programs (virtual group-based exercise program; personal exercise program; wait-list control) across 12-weeks on the physical and mental health of older adults during the current Covid-19 pandemic. The study is expected to be completed by September 30.
So, is a personal training module as part of a guided exercise module more effective than self-exercising? Ashish Rawat, founder, Oga Fit- an interactive digital workout platform, agrees. “Immunity and ensuring a basic level of fitness is extremely crucial as one grows older. Given the current situation and the impact of Covid-19 on our immune system, it is paramount to be fit and healthy. For senior citizens, guided yoga and basic cardio exercises after consulting their doctor is crucial. Our platform allows users to choose workouts basis their fitness levels and pace. Our proprietary technology helps ensure that the movements are being done accurately. Physical and mental fitness can go a long way in making people stronger and healthier,” described Rawat.
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