Researchers have long known that there is a connection between physical and mental health. Physical activity releases hormones that are mood lifters; exercise is not necessarily a cure-all for emotional or mental ills, but it is a contributing factor in better outcomes.
The COVID-19 Pandemic has taken a huge physical toll in our country–not just in terms of the 600,000+ who have died of COVID-related illnesses, but also in terms of the tens of millions who were sickened by the virus but survived (some with long-lasting effects). Even those who were not infected have suffered stress from the situation. Some of that can be attributed to the relationship between lower levels of physical activity during the pandemic (due to closed gyms, group classes being limited, etc.) and negative mental health outcomes.
Idea Fitness Journal’s September-October, 2021, issue reported on a recent study by McMaster University in Hamilton, ON, Canada; the research looked into why people seemed less motivated to be physically active and what the perceived barriers were. The data showed that those whose mental health had worsened the most were also those who were the least physically active; that same group also showed the most improvement when they became more active.
Based on the study, the article suggested that individuals can become more active (and have better mental health outcomes) by:
–Scheduling activities (to eliminate decision-making and choice
–Do activites they personally enjoy
–Listen to their favorite music
–Train with a friend
–Try lower-intensity activiites
–Get creative; use body weight or whatever is available
–Go outside and be in nature.
Of course, another option for those who are demotivated because of the recent surge in COVID-19 cases, is to turn to on-line classes and training that can be done from home.
The issue is a complicated one and, as I said earlier, more exercise is not a panacea. There can be deeper issues at work that make the thought of more physical activity anxiety-inducing. As always, it is best to check in with healthcare professional if depression or anxiety prevent a person from carrying out activities of daily living, including exercise.
For most people, however, it is just a matter of planning ahead and taking the first step. The rest should come more easily.