Before Covid-19 exploded globally early last year, the idea of ditching the daily commute and working solely from home would have seemed like a dream scenario for many.
However, the reality of being confined to your place of residence – in many cases barely going out for days on end – has had a detrimental health impact on men and women, as well as home-schooling kids, that experts say must be dealt with.
Stress-related overeating has been a major issue, say medics, due to the home refrigerator being close to hand all day – not to mention the UAE’s cheap and easy food delivery services.
“We have noticed an increase in the number of people complaining and suffering from obesity due to Covid restrictions such as the
closure of gyms,” says Prof. Dr Basil Ammori, Consultant Laparoscopic Bariatric, Gastrointestinal, Hepatobiliary and Pancreatic Surgeon at Burjeel Hospital.
“Frustration has pushed some people towards food indulgence and excess sugar. There is no doubt there has been a rise in the prevalence of obesity in the country during the pandemic.”
Prof. Ammori explains that for many patients increased weight gain from overeating during home confinement has had the knock-on negative effect of depression and low self-esteem.
“It all becomes a vicious cycle and needs expert consultation to get the right help,” he says. “Aside from physical appearance, diabetics will notice that their diabetes control is worse as a result, hypoglycaemia can get worse, and weight gain can also make sleep apnoea more evident and could worsen.
“Obesity also brings upon its victims a fatty liver with risk of liver fibrosis; people can have it and won’t know unless they test for it. Also, women with polycystic ovary syndrome may face a worsening of symptoms.”
It’s not just adults either, kids stuck at home away from school are just as likely to overindulge, warn experts. To ease the pressure, they often sneak excess food from the kitchen just to gain a momentary sense of happiness and satisfaction.
Prof. Ammori advises the whole family to exercise at home using equipment such as treadmills, cross-trainers, cycling machines – and there’s no need to wait until working hours are over. “I know some people who sit on a bicycle and exercise during webinars or meetings; it’s a good way to avoid the consequences of lockdown.”
Not all homeworking-related health issues are physical. Many global experts warn of a mental health timebomb caused by isolation.
Last year, an article published in medical journal The Lancet explored the psychological and social effects of Covid-19 in the UK. “It is already evident that the direct and indirect psychological and social effects of the pandemic are pervasive and could affect mental health now and in the future,” it said.
Indeed, the World Health Organisation says the pandemic has even had a negative impact on brain health through “various neurological manifestations and exacerbation of underlying or pre-existing psychological conditions”.
Dr Mohammed Shahid Alam, Specialist Internal Medicine at Mediclinic Welcare Hospital, says he has seen a worrying impact caused by many people working from home full-time for the first time, isolated from co-workers, friends and family.
“People’s daily living routines have been disrupted causing added anxiety, stress and strain – physically, mentally, and financially. It is completely natural for this disruption and uncertainty to lead to anxiety and stress.”
He advises more self-care to deal with stress-related issues. “Take time for yourself. Meditation, relaxation, and quality time with family all promote overall wellness,” he says. “Positive coping mechanisms can also include reading and further developing skills or hobbies.”
However, the negative impact caused by isolation is a major problem, say experts.
“Research has firmly established that our physiology is greatly improved in social settings; we are essentially social creatures and interactions at work or socially help boost mood, one’s sense of wellness, immunity, resilience, and generally improve our happiness quotient,” explains Dr Paul Aoun, Consultant Endocrinologist and Director of Endocrinology at American Hospital Dubai.
“Remote work culture in isolation can lead to low mood and an increase in negative habits such as smoking, passivity, and so on.”
Connect with nature
He says connecting regularly with family and friends, as well as being out in nature can have a positive effect – and adds that finding a meaningful way to nourish your inner being can be valuable.
“Try reading or watching empowering content – or enrich your spiritual self through prayer and gratitude.”
Dr Alam urges people to ensure they get adequate sleep, which is essential for good overall health, especially if interacting with people in other countries with different time zones – the dreaded 6am Zoom call for example.
Looking at an upside, Prof. Ammori adds that the coronavirus restrictions have opened new windows for interacting with people globally.
“Many of us used to travel by plane to go to work events, but now most is done online through webinars and virtual meetings, so I suggest keeping the interactions going with close colleagues. Create groups where you can all interact together through exercise or common interests. This can turn into something really enjoyable.”
Here Dr Aoun lists out steps to help you stay healthy
Get up from your desk every 30 minutes and loosen your body with a few stretches, particularly neck, shoulders and back.
Watch your posture. Poor posture leads to many musculoskeletal issues.
Make sure you get at least 30 minutes of exercise every day, either before or after work.
Eat a well-balanced diet: Restrict animal fat, refined/processed carbs, and simple sugars/juices. Aim instead for a diet rich in vegetables, plant-based fats, complex carbs, and at least one serving of fresh fruit per day.
Drink at least 6-8 glasses of water during
Avoid snacking at your desk. It can lead to weight gain.
Get at least 7 hours of restful sleep every night.