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Pandemic continues to affect lifestyle and wellness, experts say

Published: Sep. 30, 2021 at 6:10 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA COUNTY, Va. (WHSV) - New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows 16 states now have an obesity rate of 35% or higher.

Experts are linking heightened rates of obesity with pandemic-related lifestyle changes.

“For a lot of people, the pandemic just totally changed their lives. For example, a lot of people were either laid off or they lost their job,” said Colleen Bolander, registered dietician and nutritionist with Sentara RMH.

Bolander says she worked with many people whose routines were changed when the pandemic caused closures.

“It really kind of threw a wrench in the work, so to speak. For example, a lot of people were committed to working out at the gyms like three to four times a week, and then all of a sudden, the gyms closed,” Bolander said.

Katherine Basbaum, clinical dietician with the Heart and Vascular Center at UVA Health, says the pandemic made a lot of people give up their usual habits.

“We’ve been forced to be more sedentary. It’s not as safe to go out and exercise at the gym,” said Basbaum. “That takes a toll, not only on the body, but also on your psyche.”

Ben Ponton, manager and personal trainer at Fast Fitness in Stuarts Draft, says they’ve seen a slow increase in attendance since opening back up.

“When we opened back up, we started very slowly. I think a lot of people were scared to come back, but we have a very good group of core people who come in, and we’ve slowly brought it back up,” Ponton said.

Blue Ridge Community College’s Recreation Center and Student Activities Director Claire Richardson says it’s easy to be overwhelmed by lifestyle changes.

“When everything shut down, I don’t think we were expecting it to go on this long, and often we can feel out of control, and that’s where we need to remember that there are some things we can control, like being active and eating better,” Richardson said.

Richardson says working from home allowed many people to be more sedentary, which can increase stress.

“If you’re working from home and you have Wi-Fi and you can go outside, take that Zoom meeting out in nature because studies show when you spend time out in nature, even 20 or 30 minutes, your cortisol levels go down, so you’re less stressed,” Richardson said.

Basbaum suggests introducing small changes to increase activity and improve diet, like introducing new workouts and cutting out extra sodas.

The CDC reported about 32% of Virginia’s population has obesity.

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