As a nation, we’re still processing the long-term effects of the coronavirus crisis and figuring out how we’ll manage the damage to the economy. But on an individual level, the lockdowns have also created serious damage, especially for people who need movement for their health. Being unable to move freely for two months means serious consequences for thousands of Israelis living with mental and physical disabilities.
For many people living with physical disabilities, movement is critical for maintaining and improving their conditions. Regular movement helps prevent muscle loss for people who use wheelchairs and/or are paralyzed. Aside from boosting overall health, consistent movement helps strengthen functioning muscles and may even lead to partial regain of muscle use in areas that have been damaged.
“The hardest thing for me during the lockdown was not being able to go outside,” said Yitzhi A, who uses a wheelchair. “I’m used to leaving my house every day and visiting my neighborhood park. I feel weaker after not regularly wheeling myself around, sometimes up and down hills, like I usually do. My arms don’t feel as strong as they did before.”
An abrupt halt to movement can have devastating consequences for those of us who struggle with mobility and muscle control challenges. Lack of movement is closely linked with atrophy, loss of muscle mass, and poor circulation – issues that are dangerous for everyone, but even more so for people living with preexisting health conditions.
Most of us know that regular exercise positively affects mental health. One recent study conducted by the T.H. Chan School of Public Health at Harvard found that a daily 15 minute jog or hour-long walk reduces the risk of major depression by 26 percent. Other studies have also found that physical exercise can help reduce symptoms of anxiety disorders.
Chaya K, who has autism, says, “Taking a walk every day helps me so much. It might sound simple, but knowing I’m going to do the same thing at the same time gives me a feeling of comfort. Being trapped inside during the lockdown was extremely difficult. And I’m worried about it happening again.”
Not only are non-neurotypical people especially sensitive to major disruptions in their routines (like a lockdown), they are also keenly sensitive to changes in their brain chemistry.
Feeling a bit blue after not exercising for a few days may be something that many of us can shrug off, but for non-neurotypical people, such a feeling is much more difficult to manage.
People who suffer from developmental disabilities or mental illness may majorly benefit from the natural mood-boosting endorphins triggered by exercise, and likewise may acutely feel their loss if they’re used to regularly moving.
Just as the economy and unemployment rates won’t be repaired in a week, it will be a slow process for people living with mental and physical disabilities to recover from the loss of movement they’ve experienced for the last few months.
People with physical disabilities will likely have to increase the frequency and intensity of their movement, whether it’s independently or in an occupational/physical therapy setting, to make up for lost time. Sadly, there are people who may never regain the level of muscle control they had before the lockdowns abruptly ended physical movement outside of the home.
For people who are managing mental illnesses, the return to normalcy will also take some time. After such a disruptive few weeks, it may be a long while before people trust in a sense of stability and can leave “fight or flight” mode.
The Talmud says “If you lift the load with me, I will be able to lift it; and if you will not, I won’t lift it.” (Bava Kama 92b.) We must remember in this time to work together to overcome our difficulties as a nation and may G-d help us all recover from all the effects of this epidemic speedily in our days.