Battling the Physical and Mental Effects of Social Isolation
by Patrick Ford, PT, DPT

Many are currently being affected by the global pandemic that is the COVID-19 otherwise known as the coronavirus. It is likely that we know someone or are personally experiencing some sort of social isolation as a result. It is important, now more than ever, that we understand how to combat the effects that isolation can have on our physical and mental health.

How can social isolation affect me and those I care about?

There is strong evidence that social isolation is associated with negative effects on our cardiovascular system and mental health. Being socially isolated and lonely causes symptoms of anxiety, depression, and even dementia. 

Many of you may have been urged to work at home causing isolation away from coworkers. Your children may be home from school and isolated from their friends and teammates. Perhaps you have a loved one in a senior living facility that is not allowed to have visitors and has limited time outside of their living spaces. Each one of you is susceptible to experiencing these negative effects of isolation. 

Beyond its impact on mental health, social isolation can affect our physical health as well. When we are confined to our homes, we are less likely to maintain our daily physical activity levels. This is likely due to a lack of access to fitness equipment, cancelled sporting activities, or a decrease in motivation. In any case, decreased activity can lead to negative effects on our cardiovascular system. And we all know how important it is to keep our hearts healthy. 

How can I combat these effects while practicing social distancing?

First and foremost, this experience serves as an opportunity to strengthen the bonds within our own homes. In addition social media, text, phone calls, or video chatting allows us to stay in contact with one another. These options are the best way to practice social distancing while maintaining a social life. 

The positive effects of exercise on both cardiovascular and mental health has been widely studied. It’s as easy as incorporating 15-30 minutes of walking at a moderate intensity each day to see these positive effects. For those who enjoy it or are looking for a new challenge, running is a great way to achieve this as well. 

Other movements that do not require any equipment include: squats, lunges, push-ups, sit ups, planks, bridges, stairs, and many more. Try moving continuously through multiple movements for 10-30 minutes taking breaks as needed. All of the movements listed above can be modified to meet your fitness level. Ask your therapist about movement options that will work for you, as well as how often to do them.

The Bottom Line

The situation we are facing is creating new challenges for each of us. Some of these challenges are out of our direct control but our physical and mental health can be maintained and improved by taking action now. Maintain social distancing and go on a walk or to the park with friends and family. For new ideas, contact your physical therapist, follow the wide variety of exercise accounts on social media, or research reliable exercise apps for your phone. Gain a sense of control, improve your physical and mental health, and strengthen your connection with family and friends by staying active!

Check out more of our blog posts for tips on how to stay healthy and productive during this trying time.