Returning from a family holiday in England to face two weeks of solitary quarantine inside a small hotel room was a daunting prospect indeed for HMRI physical activity researcher and advocate Matthew ‘Tepi’ McLaughlin.As a member of the Hunter New England Population Health team, Mr McLaughlin is devoted to implementing community programs that increase physical activity and reduce sedentary behaviour. Yet suddenly he found himself facing the opposite.
“It's not ideal for me, somebody who's a physical activity researcher,” he laughs. “Not being able to move and going from an average of 10,000 steps a day down to 500, maybe, within the room.
“To get through, I knew that I had to make time in my day to actively exercise … a little bit in the morning, a little bit in the evening, then a little bit before I went to bed.”
Despite the confines of the room, Mr McLaughlin was able to complete four 5-kilometre runs, back and forth in the 10-metre passageway. He also managed sit-up and press-up sessions, although admitting they’re not his preferred activity.
“That’s still less than I’d normally do, but it showed you don’t need lots of space to remain active,” he adds. “Others might decide that running is a bit too strenuous, and for older adults I’d suggest just a little bit of walking, maybe with some headphones in, listening to the radio.
“Sometimes you just have to make that conscious choice to exercise. I found that out for myself, because normally I try to weave physical activity into my daily routine.”
Mr McLaughlin said that meals were delivered to his room by military personnel with clockwork precision. He also stayed in regular touch with his fiancé and family members, which helped his mental state and passed the time.
Being released still brought immense relief and, having experienced the confinement, Mr McLaughlin is now urging state and local authorities to create more outdoor space for physical activity.
“We're going to find more and more people getting outside, but on the current streets there might not be the space for that,” Mr McLaughlin stresses. “So there's a movement around the world – #spaceforhealth – to narrow the space for cars and calm the traffic flow.
“We want to ensure that people walking and cycling can do so safely while keeping at least 1.5 metres apart. This, in turn, will make it more appealing, which will help reduce demand on public transport and reduce traffic.
“Open streets aren't rocket science, and we have options that make for workable solutions. Cities like Auckland, Milan and Paris have adopted the idea, and I think Australia can do it too.”