As the COVID-19 pandemic continues in the U.S., you may be worried about retaining the gains you’ve made in your outpatient rehabilitation, particularly if you are older and aiming to limit your exposure as much as possible. Even if you’ve resumed your regular therapy appointments, with most gyms and other training facilities still closed and social opportunities limited, it can be challenging to make headway outside of your scheduled visits.
“Having to self-isolate or quarantine for a prolonged amount of time isn’t fun for anyone, but for patients in rehabilitation therapy, it can be a huge disruption to progress and wreak havoc, both physically and emotionally,” explains Ben Gilbert, PT, MS, MBA, OCS, Cert. MDT, the director of outpatient rehabilitation at Burke’s main campus location. “Increased sedentary activity and increased levels of stress resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing have the potential to intensify symptoms for those suffering from chronic pain and other diagnoses.”
And that could have long-term implications: “Simply put, patients could lose the gains made during rehab when they cannot replicate the therapy treatments at home, due to reasons related to physical inactivity and mental stress,” says Gilbert.
That’s why keeping up your progress is truly key. “Maintaining gains made in rehabilitation helps patients remain safe around their homes and physically able to participate in activities of daily living,” explains Gilbert. “By remaining active and engaged in rehabilitation efforts at home, it will improve fitness and independence for when quarantine is lifted, and help mentally cope with what seems like a constantly negative 24-hour news cycle on TV.”
So how can you do that at home? Gilbert offers a few expert tips:
Stay physically active. While having a sedentary lifestyle—where you get little to no physical activity—can have a negative impact on people of all ages, the risks are particularly pronounced for older adults. “Although older adults need to stay home because they have a higher risk of COVID-19, they need to avoid a sedentary lifestyle. Physical activity is important for older adults, especially to maintain their level of independence, mental health, and well-being,” says Gilbert. He recommends engaging in physical activities that will get your heart rate up for at least 30 minutes a day as a way to maintain your baseline fitness level. While the weather is nice, that could mean going for a bike ride or a jog, if medically appropriate—or even a long daily walk through your neighborhood. (And, as always, remember to wear your masks if you’ll be in close contact with others, Gilbert advises.)
Invest in exercise and heart monitoring equipment. Though it would be wonderful if we had great weather all year long, the reality is that there are many days when it’s too hot, too cold, or too rainy to spend any significant amount of time outside exercising. To that end, Gilbert suggests that, if budget allows, patients may want to consider investing in home workout equipment—whether that’s an exercise bike, treadmill, or elliptical machine, for instance—that offers the opportunity to engage in regular aerobic exercise. (And you don't necessarily have to purchase the pieces new—there are many second-hand or gently used options for sale, especially in neighborhood or local Facebook groups.) “If you can position the equipment in front of your TV, all the better,” he quips. Also smart to consider? A heart rate monitor. “A home heart rate monitor can help establish benchmarks and make sure workouts aren’t too intense or too easy,” he advises.
Go virtual. Having a good internet connection is key, says Gilbert—and allows you to not only take advantage of virtual workouts, but to stay socially engaged as well. “There are so many virtual fitness and support groups that patients can join right now from their home computers and smart phones,” he says. Plus, it gives you a chance to connect with your friends and family, and even meet those who might be dealing the same type of rehab needs as you, he says. “Helping your emotional state of mind by maintaining social connections is critical to achieving and maintaining rehabilitation gains,” he says.
Telehealth can help. In general, if you don’t feel comfortable resuming your rehab appointments, or if a spike in cases has made it impossible, be sure to ask about virtual therapy visits, which are increasingly covered by insurance, says Gilbert. “Ask your therapist or doctor if any of these remote options are appropriate and available for you,” he explains. “Nothing can replace the ‘hands-on’ aspect of in-person physical therapy, occupational therapy, or speech therapy, but telehealth has become an option to consider.”
Learn more about Burke’s outpatient programs and current safety protocols.