With most of us staying indoors and working from home due to the safe distancing measures taken to combat Covid-19, it’s no surprise to find that our lifestyles have become a lot more sedentary. And experts warn that this can adverse impacts on your health in the long run.

Take 29-year-old Reena Yap for example. She wakes up at 2pm these days. She has a late lunch, studies for a few hours, eats her dinner at 9pm, and binge watches her favourite dramas on Netflix through the night while snacking. She then falls asleep at about 4am.

For some who have adjusted their lifestyles to adapt to the circuit breaker period earlier this year, this may seem like a familiar routine.

Yap admits to leading a sedentary lifestyle since circuit breaker measures were implemented in April. She used to go jogging with a friend three times a week and do simple exercises at the fitness corner in the park near her house. However, she has since “lost all motivation” to stay active during this period. “I tried to follow an online fitness workout, but it didn’t feel the same. I prefer working out with an exercise buddy. I didn’t feel encouraged to keep up with virtual exercise sessions,” she says.

She has also been ordering more takeaway food and getting more meals delivered.

Even though many restrictions were lifted on June 19 with phase two of Singapore’s reopening, Ms Yap fears a second wave of Covid-19 infections and is adopting a “better safe than sorry” approach, leaving her house only to buy essential items.

Dr Nelson Wee, family physician at Silver Cross Family Clinic in Holland Village, says daily routines for many people have shifted dramatically in the last few months. “As a result, people may have knowingly or unknowingly picked up some habits that could affect their health.”

He gives leading a sedentary lifestyle as an example. “Being sedentary goes hand in hand with staying indoors. As there is not much physical activity involved in working and having our meals at a desk, sitting around to watch television and sleeping, it’s easy to unknowingly lead an increasingly sedentary lifestyle.”

The health risks of a sedentary lifestyle

This behaviour carries health risks, leading to obesity, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Physical inactivity can also contribute to anxiety and depression.

Dr Edwin Chng, medical director at Parkway Shenton, feels that many people are using Covid-19 as an excuse not to exercise. He advises regular physical exercise, either at home or outdoors in areas that are not crowded, and preparing healthy meals at home rather than ordering in.

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Since the start of the Covid-19 outbreak in Singapore, Dr Wee says more people are taking multiple supplements “due to the misconception that more is better for their immune system”. Popular supplements include vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin B complexes, zinc, magnesium, iron, Omega-3 and multivitamins.

“Some of these supplements have overlapping or similar ingredients, so when they are taken together at the same time, they can lead to side effects. Some of these side effects include nausea, gastric irritation and constipation due to excessive intake of vitamins and minerals,” says Dr Wee.

Reena has been taking one multivitamin tablet and occasionally two effervescent vitamin C tablets daily. “When the coronavirus pandemic happened in Singapore, many vitamin supplements, especially vitamin C, were sold out in pharmacies and supermarkets. Vitamin C is known to boost immunity and it is especially important to maintain a strong immune system now so the body can fight off viruses,” she says.

According to Dr Chng, vitamin supplementation is not necessary for most adults who eat a balanced and varied diet and get regular sun exposure or drink vitamin D-fortified products such as soya milk and orange juice.

While vitamin C is a good antioxidant that strengthens the body’s natural defences and can boost the immune system, Dr Chng advises against taking too much of it. He says: “Vitamin C increases the risk of kidney stones and large doses of vitamin C are associated with diarrhoea and abdominal bloating.”

The recommended daily intake of vitamin C is 75mg for women, 90mg for men and 15 to 45mg for children. Fruits and vegetables also contain vitamin C.

Madeline Lee, 28, says she does not have a habit of taking multivitamins and prefers to consume nutrient-dense foods every day, such as salmon, kale and oranges, to maintain a healthy body and strong immune system.

However, the part-time tutor, who has been struggling with back pain since January, says she has put off visiting clinics during this period and resorted to taking Panadol or a muscle relaxant drug at least once a week to manage the pain.

“I wanted to visit a chiropractor in April upon a friend’s advice, but it was closed because it was not listed as an essential service,” says Madeline, adding that she resorted to doing simple back-strengthening exercises to improve her condition. Though her back is better now, she still intends to see a chiropractor soon.

Dr Wee notes that individuals who have health issues and were planning to go for a routine health check should do so now in phase two. He says: “Taking preventive action is important as it allows doctors to discuss issues with the individual before they become serious medical problems.”

He adds that children should get their routine vaccinations done in order to prevent an outbreak of other infectious diseases such as whooping cough and measles. “This is particularly important as it can take four to six weeks to attain peak immunity after vaccination, thus routine childhood immunisations should not be delayed.”

Like Reena, Madeline’s sleeping patterns have been disrupted since April. “My tuition sessions were held over (video-conferencing platform) Zoom. This gave me a lot of free time because I save time travelling to my students’ homes.”

As a result, she keeps late nights playing computer games and watching television and wakes up after noon almost every day.

Why sleep is so important

Dr Wee says a good night’s sleep is important for staying healthy and maintaining the body’s immune system. “During the circuit breaker and phase one of safe reopening, many of us often wind down after a long day with our TVs or mobile phones for entertainment or keeping in touch with our loved ones.”

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However, increased screen time can disrupt one’s sleep cycle. The blue light emitted from these screens can delay the release of sleep-inducing melatonin, increase alertness and reset the body’s internal clock, which disrupts the sleep cycle, says Dr Wee.

To mitigate this, people should put away their digital devices and switch off the television or laptop at least an hour before bedtime.

Dr Wee notes that the boundaries between working hours and personal hours have blurred, leading to many people overworking themselves. “The monotony of everyday routine, with the added stress of working from home for some and the uncertainty surrounding the current situation, could become overwhelming.”

To improve the situation, he urges people to stick to a routine as much as possible. “Take time out for activities you enjoy and stay active. This will help alleviate stress and improve your overall mood.”

Text: Amrita Kaur/The Straits Times