2020… What a year so far! I honestly don’t know where to begin with describing this year, so I won’t even try! The one thing I know for sure is that our health and wellbeing – both mental and physical, have really been brought to the forefront of our minds. In a year of constant change and adaptation, the fact that looking after our health is of utmost importance has been one of the only constants and this is a message that we are likely to remember for a long time once the current pandemic is over. Of course, as we all know, exercise is good for our mental and physical health at all times, but never more so than recently. This blog will cover why exercise is more important now than ever before, and if you’re already exercising regularly it may help to reinforce why this is so great and if you’re looking for that push to start – well, this may just be it!
In a year of seemingly endless ‘lockdown’ and regular periods of ‘isolation’, we really mustn’t blame ourselves if our health and happiness have been less than ideal lately – even the words themselves instil fear and anxiety! With so much negativity in the news and reduced social contact for many of us, our mental health may have taken a hit as a result. For details of how exercise can be a wonderful remedy for this, please see my previous blog. This covers topics such as endorphins, enjoyment and mindfulness and is a great precursor to this blog, which aims to go into more detail of how exercise can help specifically in the current global pandemic. Below are some of the top ways that exercise can support us at this time:
1) Structure and Routine – Recent world events have led to complete disruption of our everyday life for many of us. The coronavirus outbreak has affected everything from work to family contact to leisure time. Many people have had to find new jobs or been redeployed, and others have switched to working from home even if they’ve never done this before. We may be unable to visit friends or family members with whom we spent a lot of time before restrictions came into force and these people may have been our workout buddies or provided us with essential childcare which we now don’t have access to. In addition to this, you may also have other family members who are working from or being educated from home. Whilst we’re all unique in our situations, it’s fair to say that these changes have caused absolute chaos for a lot of us! This complete loss of structure and routine can be anything from mildly disruptive to completely devastating and can have huge implications for our mental and physical health. By scheduling exercise into our days and weeks, we provide ourselves with some aspect of ‘normality’ and some foundations on which to build the rest of our daily lives and activities. This can help us to regain some ‘control’ of what’s happening in our lives and can therefore reduce feelings of stress and overwhelm. If you can’t attend your usual gym or class, there are plenty of online alternatives available or you could speak to a personal trainer about getting a tailored home programme. Exercising outdoors is a great way to boost mental and physical health too, but whatever you choose – schedule when you’re going to do it, write it into your diary and stick to it just as you would a work meeting or call to a friend.
2) Stress Management – Whether you’re worried about work or your loved ones’ health, or you’re sick of being stuck in the same four walls day and night, stress levels may well be at an all-time high of late. Periods of prolonged stress can have negative effects on our mental and physical health and exercise is a highly effective stress-buster. Physical activity can help to reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol in our bodies and as mentioned in my previous blog, exercise promotes the release of endorphins which can create feelings of euphoria. So when you can feel that stress level rising, get yourself moving and help that tension to melt away!
3) Weight Management – With the aforementioned disruption to our daily lives, many of us are finding ourselves more sedentary. Whether that’s simply a result of not walking part of our commute anymore or being active around the office or workplace, or whether it’s due to not carrying out planned physical activity such as walks with friends. In addition to this, our diets may well have changed due to the constant accessibility of snacks at home or simply eating more due to boredom or other difficult emotions. These factors combined can be a classic recipe for weight gain, and whilst this is definitely not something to beat ourselves up for (blog on this coming soon), exercise can certainly help to address it. By including exercise in our lives regularly and consistently, we can help to tip the energy balance to support healthy weight maintenance. This can help us to feel better mentally and can also have positive effects on our health such as reduced risk of several diseases, which can in turn reduce the associated risks of coronavirus.
4) Immune System – The scientific term for studying the effects of exercise on the immune system is ‘Exercise Immunology’ and it’s an area that’s attracting a lot of research, especially in recent times. The boost to circulation that happens when we exercise can help to increase the transport of immune cells throughout the body, whilst increased secretion of natural anti-inflammatories can help lower harmful inflammation.This all happens with each individual bout of exercise, but over time such effects can accumulate to boost the overall strength of the immune system. Whilst it is now widely understood that exercise can have a positive effect on the immune system, it is worth noting that prolonged periods of high intensity exercise and/or insufficient rest and recovery can have a detrimental effect in this area. If you have any further questions regarding intensity levels and rest/recovery to maximally benefit the immune system, make sure to speak to a qualified exercise professional.
5) Sleep – Studies have found that people who exercise rate their sleep quality as much better than people who don’t. Specifically, exercise has been found to reduce the time it takes to fall asleep and therefore enhance the efficiency of sleep. With stress levels and anxieties being high for many of us in recent months, sleep may well have been affected as we lay there with our thoughts whirling around our head when we really should be in the land of nod! On top of this, we may be spending more time using technology and looking at screens such as watching the news, checking our work laptop late at night and/or video calling friends and family more often. The blue light emitted from these devices can also negatively affect our sleeping habits. People who lack sleep are also at increased risk of chronic health issues such as cardiovascular disorders, diabetes and obesity which have all been suggested as increased risk factors for coronavirus and so something as simple as sleep really could have profound effects on our health now more than ever. It’s important to note that the best results for exercise improving sleep have been found when people exercise earlier on in the day, no less than 4-8 hours before bedtime. However, if you prefer to exercise late at night or that’s the only time you can fit it in, it’s unlikely to disturb overall sleep quality and so it’s no reason to skip that workout!
As you can see from the points above, exercise really does pack a punch in supporting both our mental and physical health not just at the moment, but at all times. However, if you’ve felt a little (or a lot!) off track these last few months then hopefully this blog has given you some food for thought with regards to building exercise back into your daily life. And if you haven’t felt off track these last few months – well then please let me know your secrets! If you have any questions on any topics covered in today’s blog, please contact Mike at Hamers360fitness or Bev @mind_body_spirit_you on Instagram. Until next time – Stay well X
Beverley Meakin – Personal Trainer/Exercise Referral Officer and Complementary Therapist