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Exercise During the Covid-19 Era

Why Regular Exercise Is Important for Both Your Mental and Physical Health

October 2020

2020 has been a year like none of us has ever experienced. Each day we find ourselves sorting out how to navigate the ever-changing new normal of safely living our lives. With social distancing, self-isolating, and quarantining, we miss our family, our friends, our favorite restaurants, and other social gatherings.

Dr. Dani Fallin, the chair of Johns Hopkins’ Department of Mental Health, has noted that this isolation and social distancing, along with the continued barrage of difficult news, can increase symptoms of depression and anxiety. It’s perfectly normal if you are experiencing these feelings. You are not alone if you have the Covid-19 era blues.

Our fitness routines have also suffered. As infections exploded across the country, states ordered gyms and fitness centers closed, along with restaurants, movie theaters, and bars. For many exercising from home, this seemed like a good excuse to stop.

As gyms begin to reopen, entities such as the Mayo Clinic have still recommended caution until you find out how your fitness center is handling safety precautions. And Mayo recommends that if you are at higher risk, you might want to consider waiting a bit longer before returning to an exercise facility.

So it’s natural that many people have cut back on or even skipped their normal physical activity and gained a bit of weight – referred to by some as the “Quarantine 15” or so extra pounds. According to one study, more than three-quarters of Americans gained weight during the COVID-19 lockdowns.

Exercise Benefits Both the Body and Mind

The benefits of physical activity and exercise have been demonstrated across our lifespans. Physiologically, we are meant to move, and many of our body’s systems work better when we are consistently physically active.

Moreover, studies have shown that moderate exercise is not just good for your body but improves mental health as well. A recent study that appeared in the peer-reviewed medical journal, The Lancet Psychiatry, found that poor mental health days dropped by more than 40% among those who exercise.

People who exercise regularly find that it gives them an enormous sense of well-being. They feel more energetic throughout the day, sleep better at night, have sharper memories, and feel more relaxed and positive about themselves and their lives.

Getting Back to a Fitness Routine

You don’t need to devote hours each day to working out to reap all the physical and mental benefits of exercise. Just 30-minutes of moderate exercise five times a week is enough. If you want to break those sessions into two 15-minute or even three 10-minute sessions, that will work too.

At the start, if you are time-pressed, or your body tells you 30-minutes is too much, that’s OK – it is better to start slowly than do nothing at all. Start with 5- to 10-minute sessions, and then gradually increase your time. You’ll be surprised how quickly you’ll feel ready for more if you get on a regular schedule.

You also don’t have to suffer when exercising in order to get results. Research shows that moderate aerobic levels of exercise are best for most people. According to the Mayo Clinic, moderate means that:

  • your breath quickens, but you are not out of breath,
  • you develop a light sweat after about 10 minutes of activity, and
  • you can carry on a conversation, but you can’t sing.

You should also try to do strength training for all major muscle groups at least twice a week. If you are using weights, try to use a resistance level heavy enough to tire your muscles after about 12 to 15 repetitions.

There Are Many Ways to Exercise that Don’t Require a Gym

Not ready to head back to a fitness center to exercise? Not able to find the time to get in a long run or vigorous walk? No worries. Think through your daily routine and consider ways you might sneak in activities.

For example, walk through your neighborhood in the evening with your partner. Jog around the field when your child is at practice. Take a fast-paced walk during your coffee break at work. Use the stairs instead of the elevator. Get creative and embrace anything that gets you moving.

Go-Slow When Restarting – And You May Want to Check-In with Your Doctor First

If you haven’t been exercising for a while, you should go slowly when restarting even a moderate intensity-level exercise program.

And if you are thinking of increasing the level of your exercise intensity from moderate to vigorous, you probably should check with your doctor first. This caution is particularly true, even with moderate exercise, for men over 45 and women over 55, and those people who have diabetes or more than one risk factor for heart disease.

Time to Get Moving

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