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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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