fitness · illness

Viruses and politics in unusual places

I was hanging out recently in a virtual fitness world, chatting with strangers, as one does these days, when someone chimed in “No virus talk please.” This community is about fitness activity, not COVID-19. But of course COVID-19 is the reason many of us were there rather than outside. It struck me as odd not to talk about the very reason we were online rather than in person.

Yet, I understand the desire to take some time where we don’t think about the global pandemic of COVID-19. There have been evenings too where I’ve wanted a break from it all. But I would never insist that others give me that break. It’s my break to make.

Someone else chimed in and agreed with the “no virus talk” rule, adding that it was like the “no politics talk” rule that some groups have.

I get the “no politics” rule. There have been times when I haven’t wanted to know what someone’s politics are. I remember being part of a running group and being excited to find someone who ran at just my pace. While running we chatted about movies but I really didn’t want to have a political disagreement with my perfect running partner. I’m always reminded of Elaine on Seinfeld having a great new boyfriend and her dilemma about whether or not to find out his views about abortion.

But this virus is affecting all of our lives and while our response may be informed by our political instincts, the virus itself isn’t political. It’s interesting who thinks it’s a big deal and who thinks our response is overblown. See COVID-19 Carelessness: Which Canadians say pandemic threat is ‘overblown’? And how are they behaving in turn?

I hate it when people run together matters of public health and politics. And I love that in Ontario our Conservative Premier said he’d listen to the public health authorities and that this isn’t a time for politics.

Back to the virtual fitness world.

A nurse followed up saying that she was hanging in this virtual world before a very stressful 12 hour shift and if she wanted to talk about the virus she would.

Next up were two people hanging out virtually while waiting for COVID-19 test results. They said the same. We’re self isolating and worried and we’ll talk about it if we need to.

Others chimed in and said they were worried about sick family members.

We’re all doing the best we can in very hard times.

Just say no to calls for no virus talk.

Cheddar doesn’t know anything about the virus but he’s happy to have so many people at home.
fitness · illness

So-called “miracle cures” are back on the market: bogus treatments for real illness

Here’s the tl:dr version of my post today:

What are the top 10 cures for for COVID-19?

  1. there
  2. aren’t
  3. any.
  4. Anyone
  5. saying
  6. there
  7. are
  8. is
  9. a
  10. liar.

Every time illness breaks out, there are lots of enterprising charlatans out there, trying to take advantage of our vulnerability. So it is now with COVID-19. What are some of those unscrupulous blackguards peddling (either in goods or false rumors)?

First, there’s garlic.

Twitter post saying that 8 cloves of garlic boiled in water will treat COVID-19. It won’t.

Apparently, this rumor got so much traction that the WHO felt the need to add it to their page of debunked myths about the coronavirus:

WHO graphic showing garlic with faces, but which have no healing powers for COVID-19.
WHO graphic showing garlic with nice faces, but who have no healing powers for COVID-19.

And also: gargling salty water.

Disinformation posted on twitter, giving bogus info about salt water gargling and coronavirus.
Disinformation posted on twitter, giving bogus info about salt water gargling and coronavirus.

Gargling may make your sore throat feel better, but it’s not going to have any effect on the virus. None at all.

Here’s another: Chlorine dioxide. What is that? Factcheck.org, tells us more here and below:

Chlorine dioxide kits are sold online under various names — Miracle Mineral Solution, Miracle Mineral Supplement, Master Mineral Solution — but they are most often referred to as MMS.

These kits typically include a bottle of sodium chlorite and a bottle of an “activator” such as citric acid. When the two chemicals are mixed together, they make chlorine dioxide, a common industrial bleach used in the production of paper products, according to the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

But MMS hucksters sell the chemical solution as a cure-all for cancer, AIDS, autism and, now, the novel coronavirus.

Again, the WHO says no to bleach (either ingesting it or pouring it on one’s body) as a treatment for COVID-19 (or anything, for that matter).

Here’s yet another one: substances with the name chloroquine. This refers to an anti-malarial drug (which HASN’T been shown to be effective against COVID-19), but also to a solvent used to clean fish tanks. An Arizona couple heard a news story about the anti-malarial drug and thought the fish tank cleaner had the same substance; they decided to put some in liquid and drink it. The man died and the woman is in critical condition. You can read more about it here, and below:

“Given the uncertainty around COVID-19, we understand that people are trying to find new ways to prevent or treat this virus, but self-medicating is not the way to do so,” Daniel Brooks, Banner Poison and Drug Information Center medical director, said in the hospital’s statement. “The last thing that we want right now is to inundate our emergency departments with patients who believe they found a vague and risky solution that could potentially jeopardize their health.”

Then we have: the online swindlers who cook up bogus medical treatments and sell them to vulnerable people during times of outbreak and uncertainty. One such miscreant, Keith Lawrence Middlebrook, was arrested on Wednesday:

[Middlebrook] is charged with one count of attempted wire fraud, which carries a punishment of up to 20 years in prison.

In videos he posted this month to his 2.4 million Instagram followers, Middlebrook showed off nondescript white pills and a liquid injection he claimed would offer immunity and a cure, respectively.

“Not only did I make the cure, but this pill right here is the prevention,” he said in one video. “Meaning, if I walk into the Staples Center and everyone’s testing coronavirus positive, I can’t contract it. It’s impossible. … I have what makes you immune to the coronavirus.”

You might be thinking: Srsly? Who would believe that some guy would have found THE medical concoction that does double-duty as both prevention and cure for a brand-new virus? I mean, who could be that gullible?

We can. We can believe anything when we’re scared, when we or our friends/family are sick, and when there aren’t any current treatments out there.

So, what can we do while waiting for medical science to hurry up and help a planet out?

I have three suggestions:

Hang tight.
Hang tight.
Wash those hands!
Wash those hands!
when in doubt, zoom!
when in doubt, zoom!

Zoom with friends, family, coworkers, yoga classmates, neighbors, distant relatives, old prom dates, vacuum cleaner salespeople, former pets, future ex-in-laws, fellow ex-patriots, third-grade teachers, part-time hairstylists, amateur boxers, Irish stepdancers, out-of-work tour guides, licensed taxidermists, in-the-know gossip columnists, tree surgeons, romance novelists, new moms, old cowhands, child psychiatrists, or orchid enthusiasts. That’s a start.

Have you, dear readers, heard any rumors about cockamamie cures or treatments or preventatives for COVID-19? Please feel free to share them so we can all revel in their bogusness.

accessibility · disability · fitness · illness

Disability, Fitness, and COVID-19

by Jane S

Sometime in February, when it became clear that coronavirus wasn’t just going to be an outbreak limited to China and its neighbors, I got a lot more serious about going to the gym.

The logic was simple. I have cerebral palsy, a disability known to make pneumonia more dangerous by causing habitual shallow breathing, which reduces lung capacity. Less lung capacity means less reserve if you contract pneumonia. But this can be modified by exercise. As long as I was doing a lot of aerobic activity, my risk of severe illness should be about the same as that of a physiotypical 30-something.

Since avoiding the risk of infection entirely was impossible (even if I could have stayed home all the time, family members go out), it made sense to focus on harm reduction. Better a somewhat higher risk of an unpleasant illness than a lower risk of a dangerous one.

In March, my options for physical activity began to narrow. I stopped going to BJJ class because it didn’t seem like a good time to be getting into people’s faces. A week or two later, when students were sent home at my university, the rock wall was shut down. My main fun activities were gone — an unusually rainy March precluded outdoor cycling — but I could still exercise, maybe even train for a birthday challenge. Then, on March 15, my city ordered all gyms to close.

It’s an odd feeling when your main tool for staying healthy gets taken away in the name of public health. I felt a loss of control, combined with anger on behalf of others who would be harmed more than me. I could plunk down a hundred dollars on a mini-bike to use at home and set up Skype sessions with my trainer — not perfect but better than nothing. But that’s financially out of reach for many. Some people with disabilities need exercise equipment that costs thousands of dollars. Others can only swim. It wouldn’t have been too hard to set up designated fitness centers for such people, but no one thought of doing so. Even physical therapy offices closed.

The idea that an important aspect of pandemic preparedness is being overlooked is not just my intuition. Julie K. Silver, the Associate Chair of Physical Medicine at Harvard Medical School, writes in a BMJ opinion piece that it is crucial “to recognize that strategies that might help slow the spread of disease and perhaps reduce its overall incidence (i.e., social distancing and sheltering in place), could have the unintentional and harmful effect of decreased physical activity and contribute to cardiopulmonary deconditioning. In particular, the elderly, who are most vulnerable to pulmonary complications from coronavirus, may exhibit a decrease in their baseline cardiac and pulmonary fitness that could substantially impact their outcomes and increase morbidity and mortality.”

Some of the very people most at risk from COVID-19 — the elderly and those with heart disease and diabetes — are the ones most harmed by inactivity. And that doesn’t even begin to take into account questions of maintaining overall health and physical function. How many older people will become frail, possibly suffering fractures or losing the ability to do activities of daily living? How many will die from this?

There is still an opportunity to maintain vulnerable people’s health during this time. Some can take advantage of exercise videos or routines available on TV or online, or exercise outdoors while maintaining necessary distance. For others, cities and medical centers should try to provide individual or small-group telehealth sessions (hospitals may be overwhelmed, but the skills of physical therapists aren’t immediately relevant to treating COVID-19 patients) and set up in-person facilities for those for whom this is not enough. Getting through the pandemic with a minimum of harm to individuals and society will require a comprehensive approach that includes everyone.

Jane S. is an ecologist who teaches mathematical biology. She enjoys climbing, Brazilian jiu jitsu and any activity that involves thinking with your body. She also gets a kick out of using her powerchair to move heavy objects.

canoe · cycling · fitness · hiking · illness

Riding my bike and moving beyond bargaining

Last week, like many of us, I was bargaining.

Sure, #StayAtHome and #WorkFromHome but I can still ride my bike. I can still take walks with friends. I love the outside. It won’t be that bad. I was imagining canoe camping holidays even. Repeat: It won’t be that bad. I was still thinking about me and my life, not exclusively but my plans revolved around making work at home work for me, the daily work of my leadership role in the university, family responsibilities, and seeing how much of my exercise routine I could keep.

I blogged about that here and here and here.

And then I read this, To tackle coronavirus, walk – and act– this way by André Picard in the Globe and Mail. Who is André Picard? His official bio says, André Picard is the health columnist at The Globe and Mail and one of Canada’s top public policy writers. His latest book is MATTERS OF LIFE AND DEATH: Public Health Issues in Canada.”

To me, he’s the person whose voice I respect the most on matters of Canadian health policy. We were young journalists working together for Canadian University Press and though our careers have taken us in different directions, I’ve always found his voice to be wise and compassionate. You know you have those people in your life, who if they speak, you listen? André Picard is one of those people for me. His column was my wake up call.

André writes,

“People who are not sick and not recent travellers, can circulate freely. They can go for a walk. But should they? Ethically, is it right to go for a walk when we are being asked to keep our interactions to a bare minimum?

“We also have to start thinking seriously, and preparing ourselves mentally, for how long this could go on, and how long we can tolerate a new normal. Right now, we’re still in the bargaining phase: It’s okay to go for a walk, right? It’s okay to take the kids to the park, isn’t it? Are these attempts to eke out a little bit more normal in these extraordinarily abnormal times just a bargain with the devil?”

“In Canada, we’re on the brink of being too late to prevent those dire outcomes. It’s time to bring the hammer down, to move from polite entreaties to practice social distancing to firm orders to do so. This must be done with absolute clarity and a singular message. It doesn’t feel like time for a casual walk, or casual talk, anymore.”

In the past week, I went from thinking riding solo was okay to watching France, Italy and Spain ban recreational cycling. Why? Because if you get a mechanical failure, who is going to pick you up? Is that trip essential? Because you might have an accident and land in the hospital and you absolutely do not want to be taking medical attention away from a COVID-19 patient.

This week I’ve watched Nova Scotia moved to close all parks and ban recreational hiking. You can hike from your home only now. I just read that the UK is allowing people one bout of outdoor exercise a day. You can’t run in the morning and ride in the afternoon.

We’ve all watched people home from work taking over beautiful remote locations. Wales and Banff were both swamped with tourists. Go home, say the people who make these remote places home. We only have enough food supplies for locals and there isn’t room in the hospitals if you get sick. In my part of Ontario cottage country residents who aren’t year round residents have been asked to leave. The emergency rooms only have a few beds.

The world is getting smaller, fast. It’s time to stop bargaining and face the task at hand head on.

But it has its good moments, my smaller world. We took part in a neighbourhood art scavenger hunt today and drew a turtle to place in our window for local children to find.

I really appreciated these words from friend and award winning author Emma Donoghue about making a life in small places.

So there’s one focus right now and that focus is getting through this pandemic without overly taxing our health care system so it doesn’t collapse. We’re doing this so we won’t have sick people unable to get a respirator because they are all being used. I watched a thing last night about a 72 year old Italian priest who gave up his respirator to save a younger person. I don’t want doctors and patients to face those choices here.

Flattening the curve is a group project that requires our full on effort and attention. Today the Premier of Ontario announced (finally!) that all non-essential businesses are closed for two weeks. I hope that got everyone’s attention though I wish he’d done it two weeks earlier.

We are in this one together. We need to stay home, yes, but we also need to support vulnerable people and our essential workers. That’s nurses and doctors but also transit and grocery store workers.

But what about our mental health? Surely there is some need for exercise.

I think that’s right but what’s the smallest-cost-to-others way you can accomplish that? In places like France, Italy, and Spain you can still ride your bike to the grocery store. It’s recreational cycling that’s banned. You can still walk your dog. You can run within 2 km of your house.

We’re not there yet and if we all work together now maybe we won’t get there. I’m past bargaining but I’m still hoping. And me, I’m riding inside on my trainer in the virtual world of Zwift. When it’s nicer I will ride outside but short distances near my house, I think. Long rides are for later.

cycling · fitness · illness · running · swimming · yoga

Pregnancy and Fitness in the times of Corona

CW: Mentions pregnancy

Throughout my first trimester, I tried to exercise as much as I could despite the fatigue I already mentioned in my post on Saturday. Very early on, I was still able to run really well (so much so that I started doubting I was really pregnant). That changed fast though, by around week 10 I was slowing way down. Right now (17 weeks) I am almost a minute per kilometre slower than I was when I first got pregnant. That might also be due to a nasty cold that knocked me out for two weeks in between, but still. I’m definitely not as fast as I used to be. After yesterday’s run, my Garmin watch kindly informed me I was “overreaching”: doing more in the face of declining fitness. The poor thing doesn’t have a pregnancy mode. Nevertheless, I plod on, especially now that the coronavirus crisis is upon us but the weather is getting nicer. While I can still get out, I do. At the moment, I’m expecting Germany to take lockdown measures similar to France, Italy and Spain before the end of the week, so let’s see how long that lasts. Here’s a picture of the panorama I will be missing once I can no longer run:

A river and a city in the evening light, hills in the background. This is on my “standard” running route when I set off from my house rather than from work. You can probably understand why I’d miss it!

Swimming – as always – worked like a charm during the first trimester. It was actually something that magically made me feel better. I had evening sickness (“morning sickness” is such a misnomer!) and swimming would make that go away. What did happen was that I didn’t go to swim practice a couple of times because I was just too tired. But I could keep going at my usual speed for longer than with running. Only in the past week have I noticed that I’m slower than before, but I can still keep up with the people on my team – I’ve just moved a couple of spots down. (Again, some of that might be due to that pesky cold.) But now, all the pools are closed, so no swimming for me, even though it’s supposedly the best sport for pregnancy, you can do it right up until the end and it works out your entire body. I really hope this passes fast enough so I can get back in the pool quickly. I miss it already.

I also did yoga throughout the first trimester. Towards the end I found I was having to start adapting some poses, like doing child’s pose with my legs spread apart. I was supposed to start a prenatal yoga class on 21 April, let’s see if that happens. I doubt it. Luckily there is a bunch of online prenatal yoga videos on Youtube, so I’ll be working my way through those once I can no longer do non-pregnant people’s yoga (i.e. I’d have to adapt the normal Yoga with Adriene routines so much they stop being fun). Not quite there yet.

I didn’t bike at all during the first trimester, save for a ride to some friends’ house for dinner one night. I was too exhausted to haul my tired butt up the steep hill behind my house for my bike commute. Actually you can see that hill in the picture above. It’s the one in the background, so that gives you an idea of what I’m up against – it’s not all that tall but steep! I started bike commuting again on Monday, and it went surprisingly well. Alas, the campus I work at is shutting down on after today and I won’t be going in anymore, and today I need to drive to haul some things back home from the office for remote work purposes. I’m still hopeful I can get on the bike a few more times before my belly gets in the way…

As you can see, corona is thoroughly thwarting my attempts at getting back into moving more, just like it seems to be impacting everyone’s fitness routines. I’ll need all the pregnancy home workouts I can get! Sam has a 7-point social distancing workout plan, which is pretty awesome. Mine looks simpler: do as much yoga as possible, some TRX workouts, and research home cardio workouts suitable for pregnant people. And: go outside while I can! If you have any advice, I’d be happy to hear it!

fitness · illness

Sam’s 7 part social distancing fitness plan

You’ve all heard the case for social distancing and the need to #FlattenTheCurve. Like many people I’ve said goodbye to the gym for now. I’m not going to group yoga classes either. Which is sad because I’ve come to love our local studio’s restorative yoga with live music class. But you don’t have to read too many articles like this to think maybe working out at home is a better idea.

So for the foreseeable future I’m either working out outside or at home. Here are my options:

1. Yoga with Adriene: I like doing yoga at home even though Cheddar likes to take part and often gets in the way. Usually I do Yoga with Adriene so it’s Cheddar and Benji, the yoga dogs. I’ve also downloaded the DownDog yoga app on the advice of a colleague and friend.

2. Indoor cycling: I love Zwift and the Bike Shed is my one concession to exercise not at home. I’m riding my own bike there though and there’s lots of space between the people riding. Mostly it’s just me and Sarah there. This month I’m going to do some more Swarm rides.

3. TRX at home: I love the TRX classes at the university but in lieu of that Sarah is moving her TRX to Guelph and we’re installing an anchor in the ceiling so we can use it here. I’m not sure what app or routine I’ll use. Advice? I do my best work with people talking and telling me what to do. Here’s a list of 44 amazingly, effective TRX exercises.

4. Kettle bell: I used to love the kettle bell routines at CrossFit. I even bought my own but since I was doing classes I didn’t much use it. And then I lost it in the move. Two years later it still hasn’t turned up and so I bought I new one. (I know, now I’ll find the old one.) I’ve downloaded a few kettle bell apps.

5. Dog walking: I can’t walk much these days but I still love walking Cheddar in the woods. There will definitely be some walking in the woods with dogs.

Dogs in the woods: Cheddar and Emilie

6. Outdoor riding. The season is almost here. If I’m outdoors and not near other people, riding is definitely I thing I can do. There are some great tips here: Cycling during coronavirus. (If running is more your thing, here is the running version.)

7. Plank challenge: You can read about Sam and Cheddar and the plank challenge.

What are you doing? What are you not doing? How are you handling these strange and scary times?

fitness · illness

Sam decides to take a break from the gym

Waving orange cat!

Goodbye gym. I’ll be back but in this time of the novel coronavirus, I’ve decided to take a break.

We all make our own risk decisions and I get it that others will decide differently. That’s fine. This is my call given that I live with a vulnerable person and I work out at a university gym with young people who may be sick and not notice. I’ve read lots about gyms and safety and I know this is a conservative decision.

If you’re trying to make your call, this is helpful: Gyms and Coronavirus: What Are the Risks?

Just remember, it’s not just about you. Jeff makes that point about the larger social good pretty well in the context of conference travel in this blog post over at Boating Adventures.

In the meantime, I’ll be riding my bike (inside and out), planking with Cheddar, using our home TRX, doing Yoga with Adriene, and maybe doing a home kettlebell routine. I’ve never been a great home exerciser but all the knee physio I’ve been doing might have turned that around.

I’ll stay in touch. Wish me luck!

Share your decisions about changes you’ve made to your life, the what and the why, in the comments below, but let’s also respect each others’ choices. These aren’t easy calls to make. We’re all getting by, doing our best. And washing our hands lots.