Locked Down and Dancing – Physical Activity over the Next 21 Days

By Prof Benita Olivier

On Monday evening, 23 March, President Cyril Ramaphosa broke the shocking, nonetheless expected news: South Africa will be under lockdown as of Thursday, 26 March 2020, at midnight.

At that time, many practical challenges raced through my mind. Some of my instantly created questions were answered during the president’s address that same evening while others remained dangling. One of them being: will I be able to take a walk around the block or run a kilometre or five in the hood during the lockdown period? After a spur of confusing communique, along came Health Minister Zweli Mkhize on the morning of the 25th of March  and said something that gave all dogs, strollers, walkers and runners hope – we are permitted to walk our dogs or go for a jog in the street. Brilliant news… until a few hours later when Police Minister Bheki Cele said: “There shall be no dogs that will be walked, the cluster met, discussed and we agreed that it doesn’t enhance the call made by the president. If you do really want to walk your dog around your house, it ends there, it can’t go beyond that.”

I made the logical deduction that my running shoes are not going to hit the tar for the next 21 days… It felt like a basic human right is being taken away. Instant rebellion. How can a solo runner inside an estate in a secluded neighbourhood make less sense than the 100 people hanging around in Pick ‘n Pay? I then came to the realisation that my individual human right to stay healthy and feel good are now second to the collective’s right to heal. In order for the lockdown measures to be implemented effectively, rules need to be applied consistently and stringently. I can imagine that it will be very difficult for the police to enforce control if all of us take to the streets to “walk our dogs”. For the greater good, I will comply, but this does not mean that I will throw my exercise attire into the back of my cupboard. No, we are humans and we have a great ability to adapt, and adapt it will be.

This is the time to look after our physical and mental health. Physical activity is globally recognised as the best medicine for attaining optimal health and preventing non-communicable diseases (diabetes, stroke, coronary heart disease, obesity, chronic respiratory disease, cancer, hypertension, chronic pain and mental health conditions). Especially relevant to our current situation, physically active people have a stronger immune system and a lower risk of infection. Physical exercise is important to maintain a healthy mental state. Exercise, specifically aerobic exercise, improves mood, self-esteem and cognitive functioning and it reduces anxiety, depression and negative mood. It is therefore clear that during this time, exercise is a lifeline!

I do urge you to keep going if you are already in the habit of doing some form of regular exercise. A decline in cardiovascular fitness present itself after 12 days of no exercising, not even to talk about doing nothing for 21 days. The heart and blood vessels fail to function as they should, while muscle strength, endurance and coordination reduce. Negative effects on blood pressure, blood sugar and the immune system will follow as soon as two weeks after you stopped training.

If you are not a regular, only you will know if this is the right time to start a brand new exercising habit (remember to consult with your doctor if you have an underlying illness). And actually, thinking about it, now is a brilliant time to start exercising! A time to fight the blues with some sweat!

The American College of Sports Medicine’s Exercise is Medicine initiative recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic physical activity per week. Moderate means that you can talk or sing while you do the activity, while during vigorous physical activity, no comfortable talking or singing is possible. You can do this in short spells of activity throughout the day or, say 30min to an hour at a time. In addition to aerobic activity, strength training is recommended twice a week.

How are we going to achieve the above? Here is where the innovation comes in. You can do it with or without exercise equipment. Body weight works brilliantly, but if you are fortunate to have a stationary bicycle, some weights and maybe a Pilates ball, great stuff. Star jumps, on-the-spot running, squats, lunges, arm dips, sit ups, all of these don’t require any special equipment. You will find a lot of exercise programmes on YouTube. The Exercise is Medicine website also has a few suggestions that can be found here.

Another solution is to download an app to your phone. Go through your app or play store and search for “exercise apps”. You will find quite a few. The one I use is called the “30 Day Fitness Challenge” – it mostly contains strengthening exercises where no special equipment is needed. The app contains various 30 day challenges – different body areas and different levels. It starts gently and slowly progresses. You even get an applause when you reach your daily goal. Another app, which has a specific cardio section is “Daily Workouts – Exercise Fitness Workout Trainer”. I don’t use these apps for any specific reason other than because they work for me, but there are many out there and it will be worth exploring a few options (while you lie comfortably on the couch).

If organised workouts are not the thing that makes you tick, then the good old traditional “counting the steps” is for you. Put on your step counter and get going with your chores while at the same time conquering your goal of 6000 to 10 000 steps per day. And… why not throw some dancing into the mix?

Things are serious out there and the best we can do is obey the rules and stay at home, but that does not mean we have to be miserable. We will be able to look back in 21 days’ time and think, not all was bad. We may be locked down, but our happiness is in our own hands.

#stayhomesavelives #exerciseathome

Benita Olivier is a professor in physical activity, exercise and sports and Research Director of the Wits Institute for Sport and Health at the University of the Witwatersrand. https://www.wits.ac.za/staff/academic-a-z-listing/o/benitaolivierwitsacza/

Five ways academics can manage COVID-19 shutdowns

by Prof Willie Chinyamurindi

(Repost by The Conversation https://theconversation.com/five-ways-academics-can-manage-covid-19-shutdowns-133947)

The COVID-19 pandemic has begun affecting a range of African countries where infection rates have been rising, though not at the rates being experienced in the US and Western Europe.

Governments have been taking drastic steps to stop the spread of infection. One has been the decision to close schools and universities. This has been true in a number of African countries where schools, colleges and universities have suspended classes and even graduation ceremonies.

For most, this is a devastating interruption of the academic year as the bricks-and-mortar lecturing experience is shut down. But there are steps that can be taken to ensure that teaching and learning continues.

In the past decade my colleagues and I have carried out research in Africa exploring as a broad theme the relationship between technology and human capital development. The aim has been to contribute to developing digital citizens.

The research we have done shows how technology can be used as an enabler to development. It also shows what stands in the way. At the core of this, as we have found, are motives and how they shape and guide the technology we adopt and use. Understanding these motives allows us to make sense of usage patterns and the technology that we adopt.

For example, we were able to show that technology, through social media, can create solutions. A precursor to this was exploring motives that drive such behaviour. One such motive is the desire for convenience and ease of use.

In a follow-up study we later found the role of mobile devices, not just among young people but also the elderly, as key in the transmission of information.

Our work also identified a technology-savvy young generation that was adapting new tools to their lived experiences. Their attitudes were very different to that of the older generation. But this generation gap could work in favour of young people trying to complete their studies while universities are shut down.

Based on my research, as well as my own experience, I have come up with five ways in which academics can salvage some of what they need to teach. All involve the use of technology.

What can be done

Put recordings of classes online. I am due to start teaching a second-year Human Resources Management module with 130 students. In this module, I was due to teach two contact sessions adding up to six hours. I was also due to meet students for consultation.

Instead, I’m turning to different ways of delivering the work. A number of free online platforms exist that can be useful to host learning content in audio and video format. These include YouTubeSoundCloudTwitch and Audiomack.

Some of these platforms also allow for recorded learning content to be downloaded online onto a device and then played later by a user at no cost. This can fit well, especially if data costs are very high.

I find Youtube and SoundCloud helpful because they offer the convenience of presenting a class either in video or sound format. Students can select which they prefer.

However, caution is needed. Putting content online doesn’t add up to effective teaching. Some issues specific to the student and their environment need to considered.

In a study we carried out in South Africa’s corporate sector, we found issues such as gender, attitude towards technology and even the ease of use of the technology affected how the technology was adopted. These findings were also confirmed in a follow-up study we conducted using a student sample within a university context.

This points to the need to consider issues specific to the individual and their environment when content is put on line.

Conferences. I was scheduled to present a paper this month at an international conference on technical and vocational education. But the event has been postponed.

Academic conferences offer opportunities for networking and collaboration with leading scholars locally and internationally. An alternative is web-conferencing. This allows multiple users in different locations to meet in real time over the internet or intranet. This has also led the growing use of web seminars or webinars.

I have found web-conferences useful and often cheaper than physical attendance. The drawbacks here are the need for a reliable internet connection and missing out on the collaborations that often happen between conference attendances during tea, lunch and dinner.

Use of Skype and WhatsApp Audio and Video for meetings. I’m constantly in touch with my students, offering direction on their research projects and helping others complete theirs through these platforms. I also use them for meetings with colleagues and external stakeholders.

We use these tools because of ease and convenience. For example, in one study we found that this was why students used them extensively to hunt for jobs.

Skype and WhatsApp are easily available and are already popular. The issues we flagged in our research around ease, convenience and performance expectancy make Skype and WhatsApp favourable. Again, there is the need for a reliable internet connection.

Off campus library access. A number of universities offer access to leading electronic resources, journals and databases through off-campus access. Due to issues of licensing in accessing these resources, this privilege is usually for registered students and staff members. I’m increasingly recommending this alternative to fellow staff and students.

From the comfort of my home, I can access the physical library through the use of technology without being in public contact. Such features, as shown in our research, are key in forming online learning communities.

Keep informed, watch out for misinformation. Information has become more and more critical. At the same time it’s important to watch out for misinformation. A common source of misinformation could be posts usually shared through social media that are not verified.

In a study we carried out on social media usage within a higher education setting, we found that social media was mostly used for problem solving and communication purposes. This shows that social media is a crucial information portal. This heightens the role of information not just among academics but society in general.

But caution needs to be exercised. Equal to personal hygiene is cyber-hygiene. In our quest for information, we should watch out for misinformation and avoid spreading unverified information.

What gets in the way

My work has also highlighted the barriers to putting these ideas into practice. These include inadequate infrastructure and hardware as well as the fact that a number of communities and universities on the continent remain under-resourced. And as we have found in research conducted on the use of technology in the work place, technology can present its own set of problems, such as contributing to job-overload.

Nevertheless, there are opportunities for both academics and students to further develop their skills. This requires seeing technology not as an old foe but as a new ally.

Prof Willie Tafadzwa Chinyamurindi is an NRF Rated Researcher (Y2) and an Associate Professor within the Department of Business Management at the University of Fort Hare. He also serves as the Research Niche Area Leader within the Faculty of Management and Commerce at the same university. His research interests broadly are within human capital development, career management and the use of qualitative methodology within the management sciences. Willie is also an avid user of technology within teaching practice. Twitter handle: @chinyaz