THIS column was written on Tuesday, October 20, the day after the announcement that we’re going back into lock down. By the time you read this we’ll be nearly two weeks in. I hope you’re staying positive and testing negative (as the memes say).
I also hope that you’re staying active. I know with everything closed you may not be able to do exactly what you want to do and “if home workouts or outdoor activities won’t result in me getting huge then what’s the point?” (I know some of you are thinking like this) but let’s talk about the health benefits of exercise and being active one more time.
Improved sleep: I don’t know about you but I haven’t been sleeping well lately. The side effect of long term sleep deprivation are terrifying (increased risk of high blood pressure, increase risk of heart attack and stroke, increased risk of weight gain, obesity and diabetes, increased risk of depression, anxiety, faulty brain function and memory loss, Immune system deficiency, decreased fertility) and by “deprivation” I mean less than seven hours a night over a long period of time. Not crazy low levels, just less than ideal. So if you’re having trouble sleeping and you’re not getting much exercise, I think you already know one thing to try.
Stress relief: Exercise helps relieve stress. Stress has detrimental effects on both physical and mental health. The only caveat I’d add here is that intense exercise is a stressor too. You only have so many resources to help deal with stress (even stress perceived as good) so be mindful of the effect your chosen exercise might have overall and maybe don’t beat yourself up with a gruelling HIIT workout if you’re already fragile, maybe go for a walk instead or try something less intense.
Improvement in mood: Exercise helps increase your levels of endorphins which are natural mood lifters, it can help get your sleep patterns back to normal (as mentioned above) and gives you a focused activity that can help you feel a sense of accomplishment. I would always recommend some form of performance-based goal (running 5km, walking 10k steps every day, getting your first push up) in order to give something to move towards and plan around, further helping create that sense of accomplishment.
Weight reduction/management: During Lockdown 1.0, Last time I put on weight. I know I’m not the only one. I know I will indulge some in order to try to manage feelings (I stress eat. Not the healthiest habit. I’m always working on it) so staying active will be beneficial for me to continue to offset some of my caloric intake. If my exercise levels drop AND I eat a bit extra I’ll run the risk of gaining even more weight. Continuing to work on eating sensibly AND exercising regularly is the best option for me and I’m sure for many of you too (plus exercise has all these other benefits above and below).
Exercise can help improve mental health: By reducing anxiety, depression, and negative mood and by improving self-esteem and cognitive function. This is massive, for all of us, even during normal times, even more so now. If you’re already active: stay active. If you’ve let it go a bit: go for a walk today (or join in on a live class on the Kingfisher app if you’re a member). Exercise has so many health benefits for you (and will help you be better able to help those you care about). Do a bit. Keep doing a bit. Stay safe.