Exercising for Physical and Mental Health

The COVID pandemic along with its restrictions on social distancing and isolation have had a toll on both our physical and mental health these past few months. We’ve been staying inside more, moving around less, having fewer in person interactions, and perhaps opening the refrigerator a little more often as well.

According to previous studies on being sedentary, negative effects on the body can appear very quickly. When previously active people had their activity restricted, reductions in muscle mass and strength were seen in as little as 2 weeks! The longer one goes without returning to regular activity, the harder it is to regain the lost muscle mass and strength. Similar detrimental effects can be seen on the cardiovascular system with reduced VO2 (maximum oxygen capacity), and on the metabolic system (reduced glucose sensitivity). In simpler terms, this means less ability to take in enough oxygen for your body during physical activity, and less ability to regulate your blood sugar after meals.

With most of society ordered to social isolation and confinement, there is also likelihood of notable negative effects pertaining to mental health, especially when combined with the reduced physical activity. Increases in anxiety, depression, and boredom are issues that compound and add to reductions in overall health and wellbeing.

Physical activity is clearly a critical component to maintaining good health. The fact is, humans have developed and evolved to be physically active, with the body reaching an optimal physical and mental state when physical activity is balanced with energy intake. Although the current pandemic may not allow us to be as active in the same ways we used to be, we can re-introduce regular daily exercise to improve both our physical and mental health. If this seems too daunting, consider simply having an exercise “snack”. You don’t have to jump into doing a full hour of a high-intensity interval training online class, or running 5k a day – Having an exercise “snack” means breaking up your day to include opportunities to be more active. It could be as simple as setting an alarm every hour to remind you to walk around for 10 minutes outside. Repeat this three times, and you’ve already completed 30 minutes of activity!

Here are a few more ideas of bringing activity back into a regular routine…

  • Getting up to walk around. Now that the weather is much nicer, why not spend some more time outdoors? Take a walk around your neighbourhood, and while you’re at it, why not stop to chat with your neighbours across the lawn? You’ll be reaping both physical and mental health benefits at the same time. Note, make sure to of course properly social distance by staying 6 feet apart, and consider wearing a mask in public areas.
  • Many local outdoor recreational parks are now offering limited access to the areas with online reservations to ensure social distancing safety while exploring a trail, garden, or park. Check out your local recreation listings to see what is available in your city!
  • Doing resistance exercises at home, even if you don’t have heavy weights that you may be accustomed to using at the gym. Studies show doing resistance exercise with body weight/low weights and high repetitions may be just as effective, if not more effective, on maintaining muscle mass when compared to traditional weight training done with higher weights and lower reps.
  • Downloading a health/fitness app. In today’s society, there’s a multitude of health and fitness apps that you can download for free to help motivate and track your activity. Something as simple as a step-counter can be used to set goals and beat your best score of daily steps. Fun fact: the minimum steps required to avoid sedentarism is 5000 steps, but the more the better!

The key here is to choose something and try sticking with it for a few days, making a habit out of it, and building it into your daily routine. If you continue doing this, by the end of this pandemic there’s a good chance your body will be stronger and your mind will be in a healthier state.



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