Understanding and Overcoming the Effects of Quarantine

With further restrictions coming into play this week, CP+R’s Research Club wanted to investigate the potentially negative effects that lockdown has on our health.

As we know, quarantine and isolation are well established methods of dealing with infectious disease. In public health practice, “quarantine” refers to the separation of individuals or communities that are exposed, or at risk of being exposed, to an infectious disease. While “isolation” applies to the separation of individuals who are known to be infected.

While both are effective in preventing the spread of infection, they are also a potential source of stress from fears of infection and long isolation, frustration, boredom, financial loss and stigma. These factors increase anxiety and stress, which are commonly known to have negative health effects.

In our latest Research Club meeting, we reviewed a paper that analyses potential long-term health effects of quarantine. The paper highlights that in the case of quarantine, individuals suffered from a chronic increase in sympathetic nervous activity which negatively affects the heart and blood vessels. Specifically, social isolation was associated with an increased risk of mortality in individuals with cardiovascular disease.

The main consequence of stress related to quarantine is a change in both lifestyle and nutritional habits. Stress, depression and anxiety induce people to eat sugar-rich food and drink alcohol to feel better. When individuals respond to stress by eating more, anecdotal evidence suggests the foods selected are typically high in sugar and fat. This ‘food craving’ is a multidimensional experience and it includes cognitive (e.g., thinking about food), emotional (e.g., desire to eat or changes in mood), behavioural (e.g., seeking and consuming food), and physiological (e.g., salivation) aspects.

The craving for carbohydrates encourages the production of serotonin, which has a positive effect on our mood and further to this, research has recently pointed out that quarantine-related stress translates into sleep disturbances that further worsen stress and increase food craving.

This effect of quarantine on our nutritional habits therefore highlights the importance of consuming the right foods. Foods such as roots, leaves, fruits, and seeds such as almonds, bananas, cherries, and oats, that promote the synthesis of serotonin and melatonin. In addition to this, milk and dairy products are the main sources of sleep-inducing tryptophan amino acid, a precursor of serotonin and melatonin.

With regards to physical activity and exercise, the paper also highlights the importance of remaining physically active during quarantine or isolation. This is to avoid the negative physiological and psychological impacts that inactivity has on an individual’s health.

Potential risks of quarantine are all related to the limitations affecting our freedom to exercise and be physically active. Correlations have been seen between prolonged TV viewing time and an increased risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus, CVD, and all- cause mortality. Further to this prolonged sedentary time is independently associated with negative health outcomes, regardless of levels of physical activity. During quarantine governments prohibited the great majority of outdoor and indoor exercise and social activities, such as going to the gym, resulting in a reduction of physical activity across the population.

Limited physical activity may be associated with several metabolic effects that would increase the cardiovascular risk. Inflammation is an underlying pathophysiological process in chronic diseases, such as obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and Cardiovascular Disease. Regular physical activity reduces inflammation, and oxidative stress and helps to maintain normal weight and reduce visceral fat accumulation.  

It is also proven that many of the beneficial metabolic and cardiovascular effects of exercise can be lost from as little as two weeks of inactivity. This can affect and individual’s fitness levels and increase their blood pressure.

The World Health Organisation recently published its physical activity recommendations for staying active in quarantine and can be accessed via this link. Although it’s worth mentioning that this should not replace medical guidance, in case of a health condition.

While it is incredibly important not to overlook the importance of quarantine in reducing transmission and spread of Covid-19, it is very important that we are aware of the adverse effects that it can have on us as a population, so that we look to mitigate them.

In summary, the paper suggests that globally, we need to be prepared for facing an increase in cardiovascular risk burden following the pandemic. In the meantime, while in quarantine, we need to pay particular attention to our nutritional intake and physical activity levels to ensure we minimise this risk.

At CP+R we utilise our unique 4 Pillar approach to monitor, track and progress your health and wellbeing. Through carefully monitoring your diet, we keep a supportive eye on your nutritional habits and ensure you are making the right food choices. Through our one-to-one resistance sessions, daily activity monitoring and cardiovascular homework sessions, we motivate and inspire you to keep physically active and surpass the recommended exercise levels.

Our Assessment team, based at our Harley Street clinic, will not only assess how you have performed throughout your training programme, but they’ll also evaluate how your health has been affected by Covid-19, isolation and quarantine. From this thorough testing we can formulate a bespoke plan to help you live longer better.

Reference: Mattioli, Anna V., et al. “Quarantine during COVID-19 outbreak: Changes in diet and physical activity increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.” Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases 30.9 (2020): 1409-1417.

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