In a study involving 34 women aged 50-70, researchers at the University of São Paulo (USP) in Brazil performed objective measurements of the impact on the subjects’ health of the decrease in physical activity observed during the period of social distancing and isolation imposed by COVID-19. Tests conducted after the first 16 weeks of confinement pointed to a deterioration in their overall health, including loss of muscle strength and diminished aerobic capacity, as well as elevated levels of cholesterol and glycated hemoglobin, both of which are risk factors for metabolic disorders.
“It’s important to stress that these women were already considered physically inactive before the pandemic, in the sense that they didn’t exercise regularly. With confinement, they became even more sedentary, abandoning such activities as walking the dog, going shopping, playing with grandchildren, walking to the bus stop, or walking to work,” Carlos Bueno Junior, last author of the article, told. Bueno Junior is a professor at the University of São Paulo’s Ribeirão Preto School of Physical Education and Sports (EEFERP-USP).
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early 2020, many families found themselves suddenly isolated together at home. A year later, new research has linked this period with a variety of large, detrimental effects on individuals’ and families’ well-being and functioning.
The study — led by Penn State researchers — found that in the first months of the pandemic, parents reported that their children were experiencing much higher levels of “internalizing” problems like depression and anxiety, and “externalizing” problems such as disruptive and aggressive behavior, than before the pandemic. Parents also reported that they themselves were experiencing much higher levels of depression and lower levels of coparenting quality with their partners.
Mark Feinberg, research professor of health and human development at Penn State, said the results — recently published in the journal Family Process — give insight into just how devastating periods of family and social stress can be for parents and children, and how important a good coparenting relationship can be for family well-being.
“Stress in general — whether daily hassles or acute, crisis-driven stress — typically leads to greater conflict and hostility in family relationships,” Feinberg said. “If parents can support each other in these situations, the evidence from past research indicates that they will be able to be more patient and more supportive with their children, rather than becoming more harsh and angry.”
A study from North Carolina State University found outdoor play and nature-based activities helped buffer some of the negative mental health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic for adolescents.
Researchers said the findings, published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, point to outdoor play and nature-based activities as a tool to help teenagers cope with major stressors like the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as future natural disasters and other global stressors. Researchers also underscore the mental health implications of restricting outdoor recreation opportunities for adolescents, and the need to increase access to the outdoors.
“Families should be encouraged that building patterns in outdoor recreation can give kids tools to weather the storms to come,” said Kathryn Stevenson, a study co-author and assistant professor of parks, recreation and tourism management at NC State. “Things happen in life, and getting kids outside regularly is an easy way to build some mental resilience.”
As if there weren’t enough difficulties related to the pandemic, it seems that the stress we are experiencing is affecting our dental as well as our mental health.
More than 70 percent of dentists surveyed by the American Dental Association (ADA) Health Policy Institute are seeing an increase of patients experiencing teeth grinding and clenching, conditions often associated with stress. This is an increase from ADA data released in the fall that showed just under 60 percent of dentists had seen an increase among their patients.
“Our polling has served as a barometer for pandemic stress affecting patients and communities seen through the eyes of dentists,” said Marko Vujicic, Ph.D., chief economist and vice president of the ADA Health Policy Institute. “The increase over time suggests stress-related conditions have become substantially more prevalent since the onset of COVID-19.”
The survey also found a little more than 60 percent of dentists saw an increase in other stress-related dental conditions including chipped and cracked teeth and TMD (temporomandibular joint disorder) symptoms such as headaches and jaw pain.
“As the pandemic continues, dentists are seeing stress-related dental conditions more and more,” said Marcelo Araujo, D.D.S., M.S., Ph.D., ADA chief science officer. “It’s more important than ever for people to maintain their dental health, including seeing the dentist regularly to address any issues that could have long-term impact.”
Despite speculation from recent news reports that frequent mask-wearing may impact dental health and cause “mask mouth,” the survey found no meaningful change in the prevalence reported for conditions such as bad breath and dry mouth compared to pre-pandemic.
Masks help protect the people wearing them from getting or spreading SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, but now researchers from the National Institutes of Health have added evidence for yet another potential benefit for wearers: The humidity created inside the mask may help combat respiratory diseases such as COVID-19.
The study, led by researchers in the NIH’s National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), found that face masks substantially increase the humidity in the air that the mask-wearer breathes in. This higher level of humidity in inhaled air, the researchers suggest, could help explain why wearing masks has been linked to lower disease severity in people infected with SARS-CoV-2, because hydration of the respiratory tract is known to benefit the immune system. The study published in the Biophysical Journal.
“We found that face masks strongly increase the humidity in inhaled air and propose that the resulting hydration of the respiratory tract could be responsible for the documented finding that links lower COVID-19 disease severity to wearing a mask,” said the study’s lead author, Adriaan Bax, Ph.D., NIH Distinguished Investigator. “High levels of humidity have been shown to mitigate severity of the flu, and it may be applicable to severity of COVID-19 through a similar mechanism.”
Considering the greater good by social distancing during a pandemic turns out to have an attractive personal benefit: A new study has found that staying away from others also reduces an individual person’s chances of contracting COVID-19. Social distancing is not just for the benefit of others.
Researchers presented study participants with virtual behavior scenarios of various public settings – a grocery store, a crowded beach, a crosswalk – and asked them to place themselves or fictional people in those contexts based on their social distancing preferences.
A novel new study suggests that the behavior public officials are now mandating or recommending unequivocally to slow the spread of surging COVID-19–wearing a face covering–should come with a caveat. If not accompanied by proper public education, the practice could lead to more infections.
The finding is part of an unique study, published in JMIR Public Health and Surveillance, that was conducted by a team of health economists and public health faculty at the University of Vermont’s Larner College of Medicine in partnership with public health officials for the state of Vermont.
The study combines survey data gathered from adults living in northwestern Vermont with test results that showed whether a subset of them had contracted COVID-19, a dual research approach that few COVID studies have employed. By correlating the two data sets, researchers were able to determine what behaviors and circumstances increased respondents’ risk of becoming sick.
I have written about stress and relaxation numerous times in the past 10 years. The coronavirus has created a variation on that theme.
Everybody, it seems, is stressed out to some degree by the coronavirus pandemic.
It may be anguish over the sickness or death of a friend or family member. It may be anxiety over a job that has been altered or eliminated. It may be disquiet over the competing demands of work and family while working from home.
These are natural emotions during stressful times, says Emily Kroska, a clinical psychologist at the University of Iowa. The good news, she adds, comes from a new study she led that shows how people might reduce their distress.
As cases and hospitalizations from the pandemic begin to decline, collateral damage on the populace appears to be on the rise.
In just a few months, the COVID-19 pandemic swiftly and substantially worsened mental health among U.S. hourly service workers and their children – especially those experiencing multiple hardships, according to new research from the Center for Child and Family Policy at Duke University and Barnard College.
The study leverages real-time, daily survey data collected from Feb. 20, before the pandemic hit the U.S., to April 27, when it was well underway, to examine how the crisis affected parents’ and children’s mental well-being. The 645 survey respondents were parents of young children working in hourly service-industry positions in retail, food service or hotel industries in a large U.S. city.
Few people who have undergone nasopharyngeal swabs for coronavirus testing would describe it as a pleasant experience. The procedure involves sticking a long swab up the nose to collect a sample from the back of the nose and throat, which is then analyzed for SARS-CoV-2 RNA by the reverse-transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR). Now, researchers reporting in ACS Nano have developed a prototype device that non-invasively detected COVID-19 in the exhaled breath of infected patients.
In addition to being uncomfortable, the current gold standard for COVID-19 testing requires RT-PCR, a time-consuming laboratory procedure. Because of backlogs, obtaining a result can take several days. To reduce transmission and mortality rates, healthcare systems need quick, inexpensive and easy-to-use tests. Hossam Haick, Hu Liu, Yueyin Pan and colleagues wanted to develop a nanomaterial-based sensor that could detect COVID-19 in exhaled breath, similar to a breathalyzer test for alcohol intoxication. Previous studies have shown that viruses and the cells they infect emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can be exhaled in the breath.
The researchers made an array of gold nanoparticles linked to molecules that are sensitive to various VOCs. When VOCs interact with the molecules on a nanoparticle, the electrical resistance changes. The researchers trained the sensor to detect COVID-19 by using machine learning to compare the pattern of electrical resistance signals obtained from the breath of 49 confirmed COVID-19 patients with those from 58 healthy controls and 33 non-COVID lung infection patients in Wuhan, China. Each study participant blew into the device for 2-3 seconds from a distance of 1–2 cm. Once machine learning identified a potential COVID-19 signature, the team tested the accuracy of the device on a subset of participants. In the test set, the device showed 76% accuracy in distinguishing COVID-19 cases from controls and 95% accuracy in discriminating COVID-19 cases from lung infections. The sensor could also distinguish, with 88% accuracy, between sick and recovered COVID-19 patients. Although the test needs to be validated in more patients, it could be useful for screening large populations to determine which individuals need further testing, the researchers say.
The COVID-19 pandemic could inflict long-lasting emotional trauma on an unprecedented global scale, leaving millions grappling with debilitating psychological disorders, according to a new study commissioned by an interdisciplinary team of researchers from Case Western Reserve University.
“There are some valid concerns that this coronavirus pandemic could cause emotional trauma and PTSD at a level we’ve never seen before,” said Megan Holmes, an associate professor of social work and the founding director of the Center on Trauma and Adversity at the university’s Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences. Continue reading →
Millions of Americans are being impacted by the psychological fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic aftermath, and large numbers may experience emotional distress and be at increased risk of developing psychiatric disorders such as depression and anxiety, according to a new article published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine.
The Perspective article, co-authored by Carol North, M.D., a UT Southwestern crisis psychiatrist who has studied survivors of disasters including the 9/11 terrorist attacks and Hurricane Katrina, calls on already stretched health care providers to monitor the psychosocial needs of their patients as well as themselves and fellow health care workers during this time. Continue reading →
Across the nation, Americans find themselves in varying degrees of social isolation as part of a coordinated effort to try to slow the spread of the new coronavirus. Some cities are in full lockdown. Others are asking people to simply remain socially distant.
But navigating this new world of social limitations can be confusing. What should – and shouldn’t – people be doing?
That depends on your level of isolation, said Arthur Caplan, director of the Division of Medical Ethics at New York University Grossman School of Medicine.
The most restrictive level, said Caplan, is quarantine – when a person is ill or known to have been exposed to the virus and must be completely separated from others with no social interactions outside the home. Continue reading →
How much spring and summer affect the COVID-19 pandemic may depend not only on the effectiveness of social distancing measures, but also on the environment inside our buildings, according to a review of Yale scientists of their own work and that of colleagues on how respiratory viruses are transmitted.
The cold, dry air of winter clearly helps SARS-CoV2 — the virus that causes COVID-19 — spread among people, Yale research has shown. But as humidity increases during spring and summer, the risk of transmission of the virus through airborne particles decreases both outside and indoors in places such as offices.
While viruses can still be transmitted through direct contact or through contaminated surfaces as humidity rises, researchers suggest that, in addition to social distancing and hand washing, the seasonal moderation of relative humidity – the difference between outside humidity and temperatures and indoor humidity – could be an ally in slowing rates of viral transmission.
“It’s really the perfect recipe for anxiety and panic,” said licensed clinical psychologist Debra Kissen of Chicago. And stress, it should be noted, may be a factor in heart disease.
But Kissen, CEO of Light on Anxiety CBT (cognitive behavioral technology) Treatment Center, and others say anxiety can be managed – and social media, used properly, doesn’t have to send you on a mental-health spiral. It also can help you find balance. Continue reading →