The COVID-19 global pandemic is creating new challenges for many nations around the world. Until a successful vaccine is developed many governments have followed lockdown policies, challenging at physical and mental level.

Forced isolation alters daily routines. The reduction in daily energy expenditure, altered sleep and a decrease in the levels of physical activity are only some of the factors that may trigger adverse health effects. Physical inactivity by itself accounts for 6% of global deaths (only behind hypertension, tobacco and hyperglycaemia as risk factor).

There is a cyclical relationship between these factors and the metabolic equilibrium. During periods of inactivity, even of short duration, there are:

  • decrease in the synthesis of skeletal muscle proteins, causing loss of muscle mass
  • increase of insulin resistance, causing dysregulation of glucose metabolism, weight gain and increase of body fat
  • impaired immune defence and higher risk of infections

It results difficult to maintain energy balance, even in normal conditions, in many industrialised countries. This is evident because of the levels of obesity worldwide. With access to public spaces very limited many organisms and individuals have tried online to maintain us motivated and reasonably in good physical shape.

Ten minutes seem the minimum exercise time necessary to ensure cardiometabolic protection, with High-Intensity Interval Training, or HIIT, as an interesting alternative, with very short (30s-4 min) repetitions of intense activity bouts. Some individuals with pre-existing conditions could dose exercise bouts during the day.

To keep muscle mass resistance-type exercise has powerful stimulatory effects on the synthesis of muscle proteins, even with low loads. Using body weight or resistance bands could also be an alternative. Dietary protein supplementation could complement these exercises, although taking into consideration the reduction in energy requirements.

Timing of meals has also diverse physiological effects. Human metabolism is more active in the morning hours, and eating should follow, whenever possible, the circadian rhythm to improve glycaemic and weight control. During isolation, feeding patterns could be adjusted by reducing the “eating window” to a shorter span, trying to reduce food intake specially during late evening hours.

With isolation we are less exposed to daylight. It alters our circadian rhythm, and consequently sleep quality. There is an association between poor sleep quality and obesity. Therefore, optimising our sleep pattern could become a key factor in maintaining our metabolic health.

Thus, keeping a minimum level of physical activity, together with good dietary habits at appropriate times and a reasonable sleep pattern could be steps in the right direction to keep us healthy during these hard times.


Together we will overcome it!



The Challenge of Maintaining Metabolic Health During a Global Pandemic

King AJ, Burke LM, Halson SL, Hawley JA

Sports Med. 2020 May 24;1-9. doi: 10.1007/s40279-020-01295-8.

Photo by Carabo Spain (Pixabay)

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