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Elderly need exercise, balanced meals when self-quarantined: Japan expert

This flyer made by the Japan Geriatrics Society, which is available on its website, offers some pointers for the elderly under self-quarantine, as seen in this photo taken on March 19, 2020. (Mainichi/Shuji Ozaki)

While people refrain from going outside to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, for the elderly it could lead directly to a deterioration of their mental and physical health when they shut themselves indoors. The Mainichi Shimbun recently spoke with geriatric medicine professor Katsuya Iijima of the University of Tokyo, who played a leading role in the creation of a flyer on pointers for senior citizens under self-quarantine, which is available in Japanese on the Japan Geriatrics Society's website, and asked him about health tips for the elderly amid the pandemic.

Iijima: When seniors spend their days doing nothing but watching TV all day, being in a daze for a long period of time, skipping meals or not talking to others, their physical and intellectual activities drop, making them frail. In such a state, their ability to recover from an illness as well as their immune systems are compromised. It has been said that the amount of muscle a senior person loses when bedridden for two weeks is equivalent to seven years' worth of muscle loss.

To prevent this, you'll need to increase the time that you're moving around and make sure that you do small workouts at home. For example, you can stand up and take steps on the spot when the TV is on a commercial break. Calisthenics and squats are also effective. When the weather is clear, you should go outside or somewhere in an open space and do physical activities. While you should avoid crowds, walking is recommended.

It is all the more important for the elderly to eat a well-balanced diet and make sure that they chew well before swallowing when their daily routines become disrupted. They should also take in protein, which is the source of muscle. Brushing one's teeth after meals and before going to bed is effective in preventing infectious diseases such as influenza.

Furthermore, socializing is important to keep one's health. When you keep yourself at home and don't have many opportunities to talk to other people, your oral muscles waste away. Senior citizens are encouraged to talk with their family members and friends on the phone as well as interact with their neighbors to support each other.

If you live away from your elderly parents, give them a call. If they have grandchildren, video-chatting with them could also be helpful. Casual greetings and conversations could comfort someone and solve problems, and are also effective in sharing legitimate information.

(Interview by Shuji Ozaki, Local News Group)

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