From couch potatoes to home gymnasts – beating the Covid-19 physical inactivity

Covid-19 has turned the world as we knew it, upside down. For a long period, we were confined to our homes and denied social activities such as exercising and staying fit. This takes both a mental and physical toll on us. We asked the father-and-daughter team of Farouk Abrahams, who runs a football academy, and Dilshaad Oosthuizen (nee Abrahams), a physiotherapist, to share some of their experiences, ideas and tips with our readers on how one can overcome the physical (and mental) negatives of Covid-19 lockdown.

The coronavirus known as Covid19 has created tremendous havoc in our lives. It is going to be a long time many of us will venture outdoors again in a carefree manner and without the fear of catching the dreaded virus.

When the world woke up to the news that Covid-19 had hit China towards the end of last year, it was merely a matter of interest not directly affecting us as the drama seemed to be playing out a million miles away.  How wrong we were to underestimate the threat of Covid-19. Just a few months later most of the world including South Africa were forced into a state of disaster and, worse still, into a lockdown which changed life as we knew it.

The first two weeks of lockdown felt like an eternity. I was forced to close my football academy and the rules compelled me to stay indoors and to only venture out for essentials or in cases of emergencies. So, it was a case of lazing around the house pretending to be on this wonderful well-deserved holiday. Eating, sleeping, praying, and watching movies or series became the norm.

However, this delusion soon ended. Reality hit home when the lockdown period was extended and now included night-time curfews. I lost the battle to convince my body that it was okay to just chill. The same body that prior to Covid-19 I had been accustomed to a fair limit of physical activities on a daily basis. At the “tender” age of 65 I was still very much the hands-on coach and mentor, always alive and kicking and diving around to impress on the academy youngsters that they should be even better given their youth and obvious physical advantages over me.

I sat my family down and it wasn’t long before we were in full agreement to start our own exercise programme in the backyard. First however, to make it more realistic and encouraging, I had to get some of the training equipment from the academy storerooms. It meant dodging a roadblock set up on the way because it would have been a bit difficult to explain to the police officers on duty that it was essential to start my home gym hence my urgent need to fetch the equipment!

Everything worked out fine and before long my wife Soraya and son Abdud-Daiyaan (21) jumped at the opportunity to loosen their muscles. Pre-lockdown they enjoyed regular 7km runs around the neighbourhood and the forced isolation had them in a sombre mood. But as they stepped out of the house onto the green grass in the yard for the first session, their faces lit up.  I had full training circuits set up and ready to burn some calories and jolt the bodies back into life.

However, for me at least, that was easier said than done. And there was no medical way to jump start the body as one would do in the case of a flat car battery. So, while I hastily donned my coaching cap to inspire my gym “members” into action it was clear that my own body was in total rebellion. I was on a go-slow.

It was the longest time ever in my entire life as a professional footballer that I had taken such a long time to get back into the action. I was not going to expose myself that badly though and acted out my “coaching” duties while having this silent conversation with the spirits within to empower my body. I was seriously concerned that the lengthy lay-off had such a negative effect on my system. The go-getter in me went AWOL.

My younger son Shaqeel wasn’t interested in sweating it out yet. At 18 he had no reason to not enjoy the physical activities I had laid on for them.  But alas, it proved how much power the mind can have over the body. He eventually joined the action, but it was soon back to the computer screen for a game of virtual football or “FIFA” as it is commonly known. It was the reality of the Covid-19 mindsets. New couch potatoes were born and bred with regular monotony and the most exercise the majority had in common were the short walks from the bedroom or TV lounge to the kitchen. The fridge and pantry doors were in ‘full swing’ from early morning till late into the night.

Next on my list of priorities was to inspire the academy members to keep their limbs well-oiled in anticipation of course of being allowed back into normal training routines sooner rather than later. Training suggestions and videos were shared within our group, and it made me happy that many of the kids actually found the time to do some sort of exercises at home. Unfortunately, a large number of our members hail from less privileged backgrounds and without the basic requirements were unable to benefit from the broader initiatives.

Some of them took my advice though to just get hold of a tennis ball and create some form of activity. And believe me I come from the era when we had to make do with a tennis ball rather than the more costly football. I could therefore share some ideas with the kids. In fact, you don’t always need a training partner or partners to enjoy drills with a tennis ball.

During the strict lockdown times it was all about forcing the mindsets to switch from the “chill” to the “will” to reactivate the muscles. It was about getting the body to move other than changing positions on the bed or couch.  As we speak, I can assure you that so many of my family and friends were never able to achieve that.

If you are, however, someone who enjoyed regular outdoor activities and/or just walks or runs around your new, then reactivating the body becomes a bit easier. You can then rely on “muscle memory” to take over after that first few painful steps out of isolation. And once the “second breath” is achieved, your mind, body and spirit will again rejoice as one.

We are not yet out of the woods as far as this worldwide pandemic is concerned, so we cannot throw caution to the wind just yet. But we need to continue with a positive mindset towards finding that health and fitness conscious person within us. There is no pressure at all because it is most unlikely that the world would suddenly be overrun by a muscle-toned population. What we can achieve though is to remain cognisant of the threats of Covid-19 but to not allow ourselves to be driven to despair courtesy of negative energies.

I am sure that health experts would concur that exercise, even in a mild form, is a most effective weapon against lethargy. Go on and fill your heart, your mind, your soul with good and clean affirmations. Let the positive energy flow to you and from you.

Remember, you do not need the best equipment to reactivate your lockdown body. Have a good old talk to yourself, a solid bout of introspection. Adjust your daily habits and routines accordingly and before you know it you will be back in the driving seat of what for you is controllable. My immediate family went from those baby steps in the beginning of lockdown to a consistent training regime which means that mentally we are coping so much better with the doom and gloom spread by the Corona Files.

As stated before, it all starts with the will to effect change. Yes, Covid-19 has introduced us to the “new normal”. But there is nothing to stop you from exorcising the couch potato. Bring forth that bright and shiny new you with a zest for life. Take care of yourselves and each other. Be safe.


Farouk Abrahams owns and runs the Farouk Abrahams Goalkeeper & Lifeskills Academy at the Wynberg St Johns Sports Club in Wynberg, Cape Town. He can be contacted on 072 535 8866 or 079 415 9261 or by email at faga.academy@gmail.com.

Farouk’s daughter, Dilshaad, is a physiotherapist who practices in Grassy Park, Cape Cape Town. She completed her BSc (Hons) Physiotherapy at the University of Cape Town and then completed her compulsory period of community service before opening her practice just before Covid-19 hit the world. She sees patients on a fully Covid-19-compliant basis at her practice. We asked her a few questions below.

You completed your community service and entered the main stream with your practice just as the world was hit by the Corona virus. Did that throw you off balance?

 

Yes, it definitely did. I had just moved back home from Limpopo, excited to take on a new venture. I opened up my physiotherapy practice in February and had just started getting into the swing of things when our country went into lockdown. I remember feeling very despondent at the time, not knowing how to approach the situation.

However, with my continued faith/trust in God and the support of my family, friends and mentors, I was able to overcome all challenges that I was faced with. I always make sure to keep up to date with the latest research and recommendations and thus adjust my practices accordingly.

 

Do you favour house calls to avoid the more populated physio rooms? 

 

Quite the contrary. I prefer using my own space as I feel that I can control the environment myself as opposed to being in a household that offers no certainty of safety. There are strict measures in place with entering, using and leaving of the premises to prevent the spread of infection. A house call is only offered on the condition that the client is unable to access the practice for health reasons. In this case, I make sure to don the necessary PPE on arrival to further protect myself and the client.

 

Give some details of your pre- and post-therapy sanitation procedures.

 

I make sure to allocate at least 20-30 minutes pre/post-session to sanitize thoroughly and prepare for the next session. This includes all the equipment, plinths, table tops, chairs, door handles, plug/light switches etc. Hand sanitizer is always available before, during and after the session for myself and my client. As another safety measure, my clients are instructed to bring their own towels to eliminate the handling of dirty laundry. All activity is performed with the necessary PPE that gets changed regularly.

Are some of your clients seeing you as a direct result of lockdown blues?

Yes. The lockdown had a negative impact on a lot of my clients, especially those working from home. Being confined to the house has led to inactivity, sedentary lifestyles and poor ergonomics, which resulted in lots of aches and pains. In addition, the pandemic is really affecting the mental health of some clients – a sector that physiotherapists are equipped to aid in.

 

Any tips to motivate the couch potatoes into basic exercise routine?

 

There are many forms of exercise such as yoga, Zumba, running etc. so I always advise my clients to find something that they will enjoy. It could also help to find a partner or to involve your whole family as this adds an element of fun, bonding, physical activity and motivation for one another. Lastly, start small. Do a little more every day and create goals for yourself – reaching targets always boosts your morale, which we could all do with in these trying times.

Is your chosen profession as you had imagined it?

Not at all. I learn more and more about my profession every day. I’ve come to realise what a major role and impact physiotherapy can have on someone’s overall wellbeing. We are a vital member of the medical multi-disciplinary team. This was especially proven with the treatment and recovery of Covid-19 patients. The pandemic also led the profession to explore telehealth as an alternative to in-person treatment. There’s a lot more to us than just massage! Graduating and entering into the real world has truly opened my eyes to the greatness of physiotherapy.

Dilshaad Oosthuizen practices physiotherapy at 207 Third Avenue, Grassy Park, Cape Town and can be contacted on 076 454 2717 (including WhatsApp) or by email at physiotherapy@gmail.com.

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Comments - 1

Christian

Christian

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Dec 10, 2020 10:23 pm Reply

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