We are living in a time when our opportunities to exercise and be physically active are limited, yet we have a greater need for what regular exercise can give us. This problem is solvable, but knowledge is key. Six months into this pandemic here in the US also means we have accumulated some research about the long term effects of social isolation on mental health, a better understanding about the way the COVID-19 virus spreads, and how to exercise safely and effectively during this new normal.
Social isolation and your health
Although social isolation plays a key role in protecting our health right now, it can take its toll on our mental health. There are greater levels of fear, and distress, and people are more vulnerable to depression and anxiety. Studies show rates of mental health issues are on the rise since the pandemic started. 1 Add this to the fact that we are moving less as we shop and work online and have less reasons to leave our homes, and we have a recipe that is taking its toll on our mental and physical health.
Exercise is part of being safe
We know that people who exercise regularly are less likely to have colds and flu as well as better management of the higher risk medical conditions like diabetes. People who exercise regularly have lower rates of depression and anxiety. Exercising regularly keeps your immune system stronger and your brain chemicals in better balance. However not all exercise is created equal. There are some specifics about how to keep moving right now that can make a big difference in keeping you safe and healthy
How to exercise to stay safe
Recent research has found some tips to keep in mind when exercising during the COVID-19 pandemic
- Moderate intensity rather than high intensity: High intensity exercise means more mouth breathing and a higher breathing rate. This can increase the spread of those droplets carrying the virus. High intensity exercise can also drain rather than increase your immune systems function.2 Moderate intensity exercise, where your breathing is comfortable, but more than if you were sitting and resting, is enough to keep your immune system strong and could reduce the spread of the virus if you are exercising around others.
- Side by side and distancing: Studies are showing that exercising side by side such as walking outdoors with a friend is safer than in a line or a group. Runners and bikers need more of a distance when they are lined up because the droplets from mouth breathing are passed backward from one person to another. Six feet is still the rule for side by side, but further is needed for exercising in a group when someone is in front of you. 2
- Stay consistent, even through winter: As the weather is going to change very soon, its time to think about your Spring Training plan so you have enough in home options or are ready for exercising outdoors through the winter. Exercising is great but it’s the ‘regularly’ part that gives it power.
- Click here to see a chart for more detailed recommendations
Bottom Line: As the pandemic is lasting longer than most of us expected six months ago, exercise becoming an even more important part of staying safe and healthy, both mentally and physically. As we have more and more research on the effects of this pandemic on our health, its becoming clear that making the extra effort to keep exercise a part of your lifestyle can give you the boost you need to get through this time healthy and well.
If you are not exercising regularly right now, start with something you enjoy, do it at a light intensity, for a short duration like five to ten minutes and build up gradually by listening to your body. You want it to leave you feeling better both mentally and physically so it improves health and it is something you want to do regularly.
If you are a weight center patient and don’t know where to start, contact me and we will figure it out!
Keep Moving, Be Well,
- Czeisler MÉ , Lane RI, Petrosky E, et al. Mental Health, Substance Use, and Suicidal Ideation During the COVID-19 Pandemic — United States, June 24–30, 2020. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2020;69:1049–1057. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6932a1external icon.
- Dominski, F.H., Brandt, R. Do the benefits of exercise in indoor and outdoor environments during the COVID-19 pandemic outweigh the risks of infection?. Sport Sci Health 16, 583–588 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11332-020-00673-z