Even for Iowans who never came down with COVID-19, a health care professional says the prolonged pandemic is taking a heavy toll on our mental and physical health.

Ruth Kern-Scott, regional director of a chain of physical therapy centers, says they’re continuing to see more and more clients who are feeling the negative impacts of a more sedentary lifestyle. “They’re sitting a lot more, on average two to three hours more a day then they were even in their office jobs,” Kern-Scott says. “Sitting creates a lot of negative physical consequences, including low back pain, upper back pain, neck pain.”

Many Iowans are seeing a decline in their overall health, she says, with the rise of weight gain and blood sugar troubles — which can likely be traced back to the shift toward leaving the workplace due to the pandemic. “A lot of people aren’t returning to the office, they’re going to continue working from home and they’re working on a laptop at a kitchen counter which is not ergonomically designed,” Kern-Scott says. “They’re getting headaches and they’re having neck pain and we’re seeing increased incidents of disc bulging and sciatica in the low back.”

Kern-Scott works for FYZICALTherapy and Balance Centers, which has more than 400 facilities in 45 states, including in Des Moines. “Certainly, we can design individualized, precise exercise programs,” Kern-Scott says. “Many people quit exercising because maybe their health clubs were shut down or people didn’t want to exercise with masks on or didn’t feel safe even going to a health club and now, they really don’t know where to start.”

One potential place to begin is our computers, which can be set to give us reminders to stand up and stretch every 20 or 30 minutes. She says we need to embrace fitness technology and put it to work for us. “If you have an Apple watch or a smartwatch of some sort, tracking how much am I moving?” Kern-Scott says. “It’s quite shocking, even for myself. During the pandemic, I noticed that I was only getting 2,000 steps in a day. We know we need 10,000 steps just for general health, not even for fitness.”

She says “motion is lotion” and we all need to lubricate our joints and move our bodies in order to be healthy.