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Must-read tips on how to survive self-isolation

Your guide to staying healthy (and happy) at home: As millions begin out-of-office working and nation is advised not to go out, here are our must-read tips on how to survive self-isolation

  • Good Health special looks at what you can you do during the lockdown period  
  • Experts suggested eating protein, pepping your food and taking vitamin D
  • Recommend fortifying your milk and buying frozen fruit and vegetables in bulk
  • Coronavirus symptoms: what are they and should you see a doctor?

Last night Boris Johnson said that even healthy people should reduce contact with others, while the over 70s and those classed as vulnerable should self-isolate for several months to reduce their chances of catching Covid-19. 

Millions will now face weeks at home. So what can you do to ensure you and your family stay fit and well during the lockdown period?

Here, in a Good Health special, we provide your vital guide on how to cope. 


Here, in a Good Health special, we look at what you can you do to ensure you and your family stay fit in the current climate. (Stock image)

The importance of a good diet is vital to health — and particularly so for older people, who rarely go outdoors and can easily find themselves losing interest in food.

‘The period of self-isolation will mean that older people need to pay extra attention to their dietary needs, ensuring they get all the minerals and vitamins they require,’ explains Alison Smith, registered dietitian and chair of the Older People Specialist Group at the British Dietetic Association.


As we get older, we lose muscle mass and gain fat mass. But studies show that this can rapidly accelerate if we stay inactive.

‘Think about including muscle-building protein in breakfast and protein-based meals at lunch and dinner. Also, you can add snacks such as eggs,’ says Alison Smith. She adds that the body requires activity to stimulate the conversion of protein to muscle.


Pepping your food and experimenting with tasty ingredients can help whet your appetite. (Stock image)

Experiment with tasty ingredients in order to whet your appetite.

‘We know that loneliness and isolation can have a huge impact on appetite and many people say they don’t feel hungry if they eat alone,’ says Alison. Spices, sauces and trying new meals could help to make you look forward to eating your meals.

‘If you end up relying on ready meals, that’s OK. It’s better to eat something than nothing and many of these meals are designed for older people, with the full range of nutrients.’


Ensuring that you get you dosage of Vitamin D is also important and vital for healthy bones and teeth. (Stock image)

As we age, our skin becomes less effective at making vitamin D in the presence of sunlight. People who rarely go out in the sun need extra vitamin D, which is vital for healthy bones and teeth.

Current guidelines advise those over the age of 65 to take 10 micrograms of Vitamin D each day as a supplement. Vitamin D is found in many different foods, but often in low quantities which aren’t sufficient for older people. You can buy vitamin D supplements from most pharmacies,’ says Alison.


You can increase your calorie intake and nutritional intake by adding extra ingredients to fresh whole milk. (Stock image)

If you have a low body weight or suddenly lose lots of weight in an unplanned way, you can increase your calorie intake and nutritional intake by adding extra ingredients to fresh whole milk. 

‘If you add four tablespoons of dried skimmed milk powder to a pint of milk, it not only adds extra calories but also a range of vital vitamins and minerals.’


Frozen foods can be a better source of vitamin C than tinned food and vitamin C is essential for a healthy immune system. (Stock image)

Older people in lockdown may need to rely on canned foods, and it may be harder to get regular supplies of fresh fruit and vegetables. 

Fortunately, frozen foods can be a better source of vitamin C than tinned food. Vitamin C is essential for a healthy immune system.

‘Frozen berries, which many young people use for breakfast smoothies, are excellent for older people, too.

‘You could use them in a compote or crumble. And frozen peas, which are often frozen straight after being picked, are packed full of Vitamin C,’ says Alison.


Ensuring you drink plenty of fluids each day can also help keep you healthy. (Stock image)

The guideline for all adults is to drink 1.5-2 litres of fluid each day but older people tend to drink far less than this, particularly those who are inactive.

‘The less exercise you do, the less mobile you become, so tasks such as going to the toilet become more of a burden.

‘Some older people start reducing their fluid intake to decrease their need to get up and go to the loo, and this in turn can lead to dehydration and problems including urinary tract infections,’ says Alison Smith

‘There’s no evidence that caffeine-based drinks are less effective at hydrating people, so drink regular cups of tea and coffee, or sip water and other drinks throughout the day.’.


Ensuring that you eat a fibre-rich diet alongside your fluids is also important. (Stock image)

Boost your fibre intake alongside increasing your intake of fluids.

‘Fibre can encourage a healthy gut and regular motions but you need to drink plenty of fluid at the same time,’ says Alison Smith.

Easy to chew cereals such as porridge are a good option.


Around 5 per cent to 10 per cent of people over the age of 65 in the UK don’t get enough B vitamins in their diet.

Low levels of vitamin B12 have been linked to a higher risk of stroke and dementia. Make sure you eat enough leafy, green vegetables such as spinach and broccoli, which are an excellent source — and you can buy these frozen. 

The importance of a good diet is vital to health — and particularly so for older people

Keep fit…without leaving the house

By Helen Foster  

Although older people will have to stay at home, it is vital that they keep moving.

As we age, we naturally lose muscle mass at a steady rate and this accelerates past the age of 75.

‘However, even a short period of sedentary living can dramatically increase this decline,’ says Caroline Clarke, an occupational therapist at Age UK.

After the government advised older people to stay at home, it is vital that they keep moving. (Stock image)

A 2018 study, published in the Journal of Physiology, found that healthy older people who were inactive for two weeks had pronounced loss of muscle mass in their lower limbs.

To avoid this, aim to get up on your feet at least once an hour.

‘If you have a garden, take a stroll for ten minutes several times each day,’ says Caroline.

‘Try to walk briskly until you feel a little warmer and your breathing rate rises slightly.

‘Or, when waiting for the kettle to boil, for example, go up on your toes ten times in a row while holding on to something like the kitchen sink.’

Here, we explain how to use your home as a gym to stay fit.


Stair climbing works your heart, lungs and leg muscles.

Japanese research found that using the stairs for two sets of three minutes in the one to two hours after eating lowered blood sugar levels in those with type 2 diabetes. While Canadian researchers suggested even just climbing one flight of stairs daily makes your brain 0.58 years younger.

Personal trainer Elliot Upton, from global training group Ultimate Performance, says: ‘Even taking side steps while holding the bannister challenges the body in different ways.’

You can also march on the spot if you don’t have stairs.


Pushing against something can be particularly good for people recovering from injury. (Stock image)

‘Pushing against something that won’t move while you also don’t move creates what’s known as an isometric contraction of the muscle,’ says personal trainer Ollie Campbell from Priority 6 in Oxford.

Isometric exercises help maintain muscle mass and can be particularly good for people recovering from injury or with problems such as arthritis, which can affect movement and lower blood pressure.

Campbell suggests a couple of simple moves to get you started. First, stand with feet 2 in away from the wall, hands pressed against it in an upright press-up position (below). Lean forward and push and hold for ten seconds. Now, move your feet back another 2 in and repeat the hold. Keep moving back until you reach the point when you start with straight arms.


‘A backpack filled with books can act like a weighted vest,’ says Surrey-based trainer Tanya White. ‘You can climb up the stairs with it on, or perform lunges, squats or push-ups.’

Edinburgh-based trainer Nicole Wright prefers to raid her kitchen for makeshift weights. ‘I have a heavy Le Creuset pan that I have been known to use in a workout.

‘It’s good for side bends targeting the oblique muscles. Or I squat, grab it and then raise it straight over my head before repeating.’


AGE UK has a free exercise video appropriate for all older people who want to work out at home. It can be downloaded from generationgames.org.uk 

So what should you have in your medicine cabinet?

‘Like people of all ages, older people need to ensure they have the basic first-aid kit, but they may also need to stock up to treat things such as joint pain,’ says Emma Hammett, a registered nurse who runs training provider First Aid for Life.

Here’s her list of first aid essentials for the over-70s. (With all these drugs, take advice from your pharmacist, especially if already on medication.)

Paracetamol: Can treat pain including headaches and toothaches and reduce fever. Avoid aspirin — it can affect blood clotting or cause stomach ulcers.

Ibuprofen gel: A non-steroidal anti-inflammatory painkiller, it is particularly good for rheumatic and muscular aches and pains. As a topical gel it avoids any risk of stomach ulcers compared to pill form.

Cough medicine: Pholcodine Linctus is a cough mixture which suppresses irritating, dry and tickly cough. Night medications contain a sedative which help you sleep, so don’t use it during the day.

Stretchy bandages/tubigrip: The older you get, the thinner the skin, so avoid sticky plasters if possible. Choose mepore dressings (breathable dressings for cuts) or soft bandages for minor wounds. Keep an eye on the wound and consult a health professional if it becomes hot, red or infected, or takes longer than usual to heal.

Ordinary soap over antiseptic creams: Wash wounds with soap and water, and minor burns should be treated by holding the affected area under cold running water for 20 minutes. Savlon or antiseptic cream is not recommended.

Bonjela: If you wear dentures, Bonjela can help soothe ulcers or mouth injuries.

Sore throat spray: These numb the throat. They do work, but don’t drink overly hot drinks after using them. The effect can last an hour or more.

Thermometer: A cheap digital thermometer is good but not absolutely necessary. You can usually tell you have a temperature if you look flushed and feel hotter than normal on your forehead.

If you take regular medication, organise repeat prescriptions to be sent to your preferred pharmacy. Ask a friend or family member to pick them up or request a home delivery. Many pharmacies do this for free.


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  • Posted on March 17, 2020