While restrictions continue until a vaccine exists, building a habit of physical activity is vital for mental health.
Covid-19 has taken over our lives. Being confined to our homes is the new normal and it is now a special occasion to even walk out the door. With college starting again, the reality of this new world is starting to set in and we must create a new daily routine. The first thing to include on your to-do list should be exercise. In this climate, nothing is more important than maintaining your mental and physical health and one of the best ways to improve both is with exercise. Many students will be losing a large source of their passive exercise with online learning as the commute to college and walking in town could have previously been all they needed to stay active. Others who utilized the gym or any fitness classes may have lost their access to equipment or trainers, or are wary to visit gyms that have reopened. It has never been more important to carve out a half hour for daily exercise.
The World Health Organization recommends that all adults of age 18 to 64 should participate in 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise at least five times a week. That is only 150 minutes a week, a touch over two hours. Scientists have provided evidence that those 30 minutes a day of exercising can help to improve your overall health. Exercise has been shown to improve mental health, immune function, and overall physical health. As little as 30 minutes a day for five days a week can greatly improve quality of life.
“While restrictions continue until a vaccine exists, going on a short walk could help prevent adverse effects on mental health.”
If quarantine has got you feeling down, one way to counter that may be through physical activity. As with your physical health, mental health can easily suffer while staying indoors and helping to prevent the spread of Covid-19. 150 minutes of walking a week has been found to be a significant preventive measure against depression. The correlation between increased physical activity and decreased rates of depression has been observed time and time again. As learned in many introductory statistics classes, correlation is not equal to causation. However, there is an inversely proportional relationship between physical activity and depression. While restrictions continue until a vaccine exists, going on a short walk could help prevent adverse effects on mental health.
“Physical activity has been linked to lower amounts of stress, specifically in college students”
Getting sick may appear to be a purely biological process, but research has shown that stress brought on by life events can hamper the immune system, making it harder for the body to fight off antigens. When someone experiences a major stressor, like a global pandemic, their body initiates a stress response and if the stressor continues, so does the stress response. The body goes into a less extreme form of the fight or flight response, as we have evolved to be stressed by physical threats and not the kind of continual stress that comes with modern life. Parts of the brain that are meant to regulate the body and keep the immune system in check are now working overtime and cannot regulate some of our white blood cells which would usually protect against disease. Luckily enough, physical activity has also been linked to lower amounts of stress, specifically in college students. A study that looked at over 14,000 students across the United States found that students who had participated in vigorous physical activity for only 20 minutes three times a week also reported better mental health and lower stress levels than students who had not met that exercise threshold. While moderate exercise is something akin to a walk, vigorous exercise raises your heart rate and results in heavy breathing and substantial sweating. Going for a run can benefit the body’s defence system against minor illnesses. This is particularly important in times like these when health is threatened around the world.
If you currently do not exercise at all and are intimidated by the WHO recommendation, that is not a problem. New evidence has shown that there is no threshold of physical activity to be met before overarching health benefits are achieved. Moving from a sedentary lifestyle to any amount of physical activity greatly decreases risks for cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, breast cancer, and colon cancer. The WHO recommended 150 minutes a week is a good guideline to meet, but even if it is not met, any extra physical activity will still improve overall health. There are no drawbacks to an extra ten minutes of exercise a day.
“It has actually never been easier to keep fit from home.”
Now there is the motivation to get out and move, but the obstacle is how to get started. With the risk of going to a gym right now, it may seem like there is no way to start your fitness journey. It has actually never been easier to keep fit from home. Think to yourself of whatever sort of exercise seems most appealing to you, whether it is running, yoga, weight lifting, or anything else, there are a million search results that can help to learn more about that form of exercise. Be sure to find something you will actually enjoy so you can look forward to exercising. There will always be other people online who can help start a journey to consistent exercise. Whether it is following an expert’s routine or learning alongside a novice, any form of movement will be beneficial. If you are nostalgic about dancing on a night out, there are aerobic dance routines to your favourite style of music readily available on YouTube. If you want to stay in your room and not disturb your roommates, try yoga. If you want to spend more time outdoors, but are not looking to try anything too intense, just go for a nice long walk. If you do not mind spending a little money on equipment, then give weightlifting a shot. If exercising in general seems boring to you, you could listen to a curated playlist of your favourite songs or a podcast to keep your mind occupied. There are so many resources available for people at any fitness level to get started that it is easier than it may seem to get into the habit of daily exercise.
If you have wanted to better yourself at all over the course of quarantine, now is the time to actually enact change. You can start your new life with just getting outside and moving around for a few extra minutes a day. No goals are too small. A five minute workout will leave you feeling better than if you have not worked out at all. Physical activity is what you need to start a new chapter of your life and kick the quarantine blues to the side. Work towards the WHO recommended 150 minutes of exercise per week and you will be thanking yourself.