Currently, across the world, there is a growing concern for the impact COVID-19 will have on people’s physical and mental health. People who were normally active as part of their daily lifestyle of going to work, the shops, community centres or outdoor parks aren’t going out as often. The message prior to COVID-19 was always go outside and be active, but now the message is blurred with fear. Unfortunately, this behaviour of physical inactivity has become more and more socially acceptable. However, physical inactivity is not something humans were made for. The more we are physically inactive, the more we increase our risk of conditions such as Type 2 diabetes, early childhood obesity, cardiovascular disease and depression.
Of particular concern, is the impact COVID-19 restrictions will have on the relationship between physical activity and mental health. Research continuously suggests that regular physical activity can lessen symptoms of depression, stress and anxiety. One such study published in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Activity (2001) found that there was a significant improvement in mood with exercise. With significantly greater improvements in those reporting depressed moods before exercise. These findings not only encourage people to go outside to reduce their risk, but also to engage in physical activity if they feel down and depressed – something many of us can attest to during these uncertain times.
Despite the concern, there is a reason for optimism. As more medical professionals, organizations and governments have spoken out about the benefits of physical activity in the last few months, there has been an observable increase in the number of people walking, running and cycling.
This observation has been seen in many countries where restrictions have been slowly eased. Even during the lockdown, there appeared to be more people walking, running and cycling while being socially distant.
So, what are some practical guidelines? The American College of Sports Medicine has physical activity guidelines specific to COVID-19, which adopt the American and Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines. These guidelines encourage those between 18 and 64 years of age to accumulate at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise weekly, in bouts of greater than 10 minutes. Examples of moderate physical activity may include walking or going for a casual bike ride. More intense exercise could be going for a run or doing high-intensity interval training. It is also recommended to do muscle and bone strengthening exercises two times a week. Given your age and health risks, the types of activities you engage with may differ. However, the message is clear across all ages and demographics – physical activity is good for your mental health.
So, may this be an encouragement that amidst the turmoil, we can still enjoy the simple pleasures of going for a walk, run, cycle or just being out in the great outdoors.
(Note: While respecting guidelines and restrictions in place by the government).