As more U.S. states issue stay-at-home orders to combat the spread of coronavirus, many people are working from home and spending long hours streaming their favorite TV shows and movies.
That’s concerning for health officials.
Researchers have continuously found that sitting for long periods is bad for your health. It can increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer, even result in death, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Dr. Zhaoping Li, chief of the Division of Clinical Nutrition at UCLA, told USA TODAY that some of her patients have been watching too much television, not getting enough sleep, or not being active in their homes during the coronavirus pandemic.
“This is the right time people need to do more active things, not just sitting around,” Li said, adding that muscle loss and weight gain are among the risks associated with inactivity. “Take this opportunity to do self examination, self inspection and self care. This is the time we’ll have no excuse to say, ‘I’m too busy.’”
Another health risk that can arise from sedentary behavior is thrombosis, or blood clots, said Dr. Mary Cushman, professor of medicine and pathology at the University of Vermont.
There are two types of thrombosis that can form in any vein or artery, slowing or blocking normal blood flow and increasing the risk of a heart attack or stroke. In fact, on average, one American dies of a blood clot every six minutes, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Blood clots are often diagnosed in one leg or the other, Cushman said, and can cause pain, swelling and redness.
“And the thing is, you don’t always have to have all the symptoms so that’s where it gets tricky for patients to know what’s going on and sometimes even for doctors to figure out,” Cushman told USA TODAY.
Amid coronavirus, Cushman said she’s mainly worried about venous thromboembolism (VTE). That’s when blood clots form in the veins and can lead to part of the clot traveling to the lungs and causing blockage, also called a pulmonary embolism. The symptoms can include chest pain and shortness of breath.
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She said blood clots can affect anyone but VTE is about 60% higher in African Americans.
“The lifetime risk of VTE after age 45 is 11.5% in African Americans, while this is 6.9% in whites in the U.S.,” Cushman said, attributing the difference to a higher percentage of obesity in black communities and differences in socioeconomic status. Recent data also shows that COVID-19 is disproportionately killing black people at an alarming rate.
How can you help yourself? Here are a few tips from Li and Cushman:
- Take five-minute walk breaks each hour. Grab some water from the kitchen or take a bathroom break.
- Make sure you have enough space to stretch your legs if you are working from home. Try not to cross your legs for long periods.
- Stay moving. Keep your legs moving if you’re working from home; search YouTube videos for home workouts; get up and stretch during a TV commercial break.
- Stay hydrated.