Quarantine and Fitness: Effects of No Exercise

I stopped counting the days since life as we knew it ended.  Since then, everything revolved about “survival” and preventing getting sick.  Many of the things I liked are no longer available and I have to settle for what is.  Unfortunately, this also meant stoppage of one of the longest things I’ve been consistently doing in my life—working out.

Even the most mundane things that I used to enjoy to get my mind off things—long, casual walks—is suddenly no longer an option.  With an invisible disease possibly just floating around waiting to contaminate someone and the government’s desire to minimize infection, going outside became a privilege reserved only for those endowed with a quarantine pass.  And while I am able to use this pass to go outside, my desire not to get the disease and compromise my family’s safety is stronger than my desire to do outdoor physical activities that would really benefit only myself.  Thus, the most intense physical activity that I have to date is when I go out to the supermarket and haul kilograms of weight over a few kilometers on foot, sometimes in the midst of the summer tropical sun as that’s usually when crowds are often least.

My last gym selfie.  The new “before” shot.  Who knows how the “after” would look like when gyms are allowed to finally open.

Days felt really long and weeks felt like months, but as we get accustomed to the “new normal”, they seemed to pass faster and before I knew it, I already lost count how long since I’ve lifted anything significantly more than my body weight.  As expected, my “gains” started fading away, slowly but surely.  At first it was more psychological as I feel like I’m getting really fat, especially in the middle section of my body.  Eventually, I was pretty certain that I really was gaining body fat.  And then a few days ago when I grabbed my arms, I felt really strange—they did not feel like they’re my own!  For all the years I’ve been working out, I know exactly how my arms feel, and how they feel now was never it.  It’s like I was handed back my arms before I started working out.  I’m officially losing muscle mass!

Use it or lose it.  As my physical activities dropped, there’s no longer any use to keep muscles at that size.  It’s quite expensive to keep something that you don’t use (like having a Netflix subscription and you don’t have enough bandwidth to stream) and for our bodies, that meant “restoring” muscle size to what is needed.  Although at the back of my mind I knew that this was happening, I just wasn’t aware of how extensive it already was until I felt my arms.  The parts of myself that I see regularly does not seem to change much (except for my abs which I’m quite certain to have lost definition) and at this point I guess I’m a bit afraid to take a closer look to assess.

To ensure that this is not just another case of “I think” or “I feel,” I decided to take a factual approach and got a tape measurement.  13.5 inches.  That’s the current diameter of my arms around the biceps area when flexed.  That’s an inch off my record 14.5 inches.  I remember this number vividly because my goal was to reach 15 inches.  An inch does not sound much, but then again this is an arm and not my waistline.  It’s almost a 7% loss.  For a hard-gainer as myself, this means months of hard work taken away by the on-going lockdown.  And realistically, it also means that I can no longer lift what I used to before the quarantine began.

While the quarantine was eased a bit, gyms are still closed.  While I do understand the reason behind the continued closure, it’s a bit odd if you also consider that malls are being opened with the condition that physical distancing and limited entry is enforced.  Don’t the regulators think that gyms and similar fitness centers can also enforce that?  It’s not like a significant portion of the population is a fitness enthusiast to begin with.  The mere fact that gyms were not considered “essential” attests to this.  These facilities could enforce quotas as to how many people are in the facility at any time and strictly limit how long each one can stay.

Some people may say, “why not workout from home?”  For some people that may work, but not for all.  And it also depends on your current physique.  For those who hardly exercised before the lockdown, it may actually improve their physique if they start doing so.  And for those that were physically active may be able to prevent or slow down muscle loss.  As for myself, I have very limited space to safely move about and honestly, this lockdown is having its toll on my mental health more than I’d like to admit to really push me to workout at home on a regular basis.  I can only do so much in the current situation and I don’t want to subscribe to the “toxic positivity” that some influencers are pushing that makes you feel guilty for not gaining anything during the pandemic.  And it’s not like I’m not working as usual at home!  In fact, working from home made it practically impossible for me to limit my work day into the required eight hours.  Anyway, that’s another story.  At this point, I really, really miss the gym.  I’m anxious to know already how much my strength had actually declined.

Until we have an affordable cure for everyone for COVID-19, life will never return to what it was prior to 2020.  And that’s even considering that no new similarly deadly pandemic arises in the near future!  Who knows what endangered animal some people would think of eating next to start a new pandemic?  But as life needs to continue, we should really start to plan what the “new normal” would be.  And it should be inclusive to all, including the differently-abled and financially-challenged sectors.  Let’s not make closures, lockdowns, and quarantines the default.  If certain sectors can be safely opened, I hope we do, soon.  We’re supposed to be the most intelligent creatures of this planet, I’m sure we can figure it out how to safely navigate around this pandemic.  It’s not enough that we’re “safe” within our homes, we also need to “live.”

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