Staying at home during pandemic: Damned if you do, damned if you don’t


“Stay home,” is the expert and official advice to a population struggling with a “third wave” of coronavirus infection. But staying home too much isn’t healthy, says Shukan Shincho (Jan 14). It weakens you physically, enervates you mentally, isolates you socially. Seniors are especially at risk, the magazine warns. Beyond question, close contact with others must be avoided. But extremes of any kind can be bad, and extreme compliance may be no less harmful than no compliance at all.

Six years ago Tokyo University Medical School professor Yasuyoshi Okita inducted the word “frail” into the Japanese language as an apt description of certain debilities associated with aging. Now he warns of “corona frail” – the damage wrought not by the disease but by the preventive measures.

“Frail” in normal times afflicts an estimated 10 percent of Japanese in their 60s and 60 percent of those in their 80s. These are not, of course, normal times, and clinicians, reports Shukan Shincho, are noticing a sharp rise in “corona frail.” No statistics have been compiled yet, but the anecdotal evidence is there. One doctor has observed an increasing tendency among patients formerly sturdy to now brace themselves for the effort of hoisting themselves out of a chair. A small thing – or maybe not.

Dr Hiroshi Kamata divides “frail” into three categories: muscular, oral (of the mouth) and social. Muscular frailty speaks for itself. Oral frailty means trouble chewing and swallowing, at worst an indirect cause of aspiration pneumonia. For both “frails,” there are obvious remedies. Perhaps home calisthenics – stretches, sit-ups, running on the spot and so on (Shukan Shincho’s article includes an illustrated how-to) – are not fully satisfactory substitutes for outdoor walks and sports, but they’ll at least tide us over the emergency, presuming the light at the end of the tunnel in the form of new vaccines does not flicker out due to unforeseen snags.

No less important than exercise is protein. Healthy dining can be another casualty of staying home, particularly if you live alone. Cooking seems a bother if it’s just for you; you make do with whatever’s around, whatever’s easy. That’s all right, says Kamata – just be careful what you throw together. Some easy menus are actually protein-rich – canned  mackerel, canned tuna, eggs, pre-cut vegetables. Instant noodles and the like need not be foregone entirely, he says, but should not be exclusively relied on.

So far, so good. It’s the third “frail” – social – that can be difficult. Here the potential frailty is mental. “Involvement in society is indispensable as a defense against ‘frail,’” says sports medicine specialist Shinya Kuno. He can devise a training regimen for the housebound, but without outside stimulation, he says, “you lose the will to train. The need to stay home deprives the elderly of that very important social engagement” – a fact surely not much less applicable to the middle-aged and young.

There must be a happy medium between reckless socializing and self-isolation carried to extremes. The trick is to find it. So far, solitary joggers and walkers are among the few who have. Society as a whole is still groping.

© Japan Today

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Simple solution.

People who fear the virus and want lockdowns can stay home.

People who are not overwhelmed by fear and prefer to live their lives actively can go outside.

As long as everybody respects the right of each person to make their own decision, everybody gets what they want.

0 ( +9 / -9 )

Why not go out and walk? Who wants to stay inside every day?

I just wish the runners would mask up. Blatantly rude.

-2 ( +7 / -9 )

Japanese business need to embrace the concept of remote workers like the rest of the world .

4 ( +6 / -2 )

Why did Yasuyoshi Okita not use the perfectly good word 'frailty'? Then they'd be able to discuss it at international medical conferences without everyone being confused.

Sometimes I think Japan goes out of its way to use English incorrectly, just for fun.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

I never saw so many people out walking for exercise as I did during Melbourne's 111-day lockdown. People everywhere - singles, couples, family groups, dog walkers. Hordes of joggers, the majority unmasked, ignoring social distancing like there was no tomorrow. Since the lockdown ended, things have gone back to normal.

Which one is harmful again?

-3 ( +3 / -6 )

The social frail aspect is what makes me so grateful that my wife and I still have each other for company. Without her, I would go bonkers. She spends a lot of time on social media and on the phone, which is good, I think. A few years ago I encouraged her to go on social media, and she spends hours every day reading the news and commenting with others. I could get annoyed, but instead I see it as a way for her to keep her mind active. Some people just sink into themselves and melt away when they get old.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

Talking about going out and walking, when the weather is nice, it seems like everyone goes outdoors and walks or bikes.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

I walk religiously no matter the weather.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Sandybeach, a new religion! The Walking. Sounds like a good set up for a film or a TV programme, you could call it The Walking........Dead? :)

The underlying problem is in the outlook and attitudes of those seen as “frail” unless they have a physical cause. Pandemic does not prevent you from exercise, it merely changes the how, a dog is a useful tool especially for the single as it forces you to go out and exercise it. It’s not difficult to cook a simple healthy meal, again it comes down to attitude, make the cooking a hobby, experiment, try new cuisines. The social side is a little harder perhaps but video calls with family is easy enough that even I can just about manage it, even phone calls to keep in touch or e-mails (or dare I say faxes) and as 1glenn said above, social media.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

There must be a happy medium between reckless socializing and self-isolation carried to extremes. The trick is to find it.

I completely agree. There has to be a happy medium or the self harm that is being caused by the narrow “follow the science” lockdown mentality will continue unabated. Suicides are up. Depression is up. People are missing regular medical checks and diseases are being left untreated. The scientists focus primarily on physiology. They are trained in a highly specialized field of expertise that rarely accounts for the mind and human nature.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

“Frail” in normal times afflicts an estimated 10 percent of Japanese in their 60s and 60 percent of those in their 80s.

Apparently one in two 85 year olds needs some kind of assistance. Since its often family who do it, the true scale of the burden is hidden. Anyway, its something you should mentally prepare for, for family members and for yourself.

Its also something the every government should be prepared for, because population pyramids show it coming decades in advance. If you will have x 85 year olds in 2025, x/2 of them are going to need help.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Exercise would certainly help maintain one’s strength and coordination as one get older.  My mantra is : “You did not stop exercising/playing because you got old, rather, you got old because you stopped exercising/playing”.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

@Burning Bush. Perfectly said!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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