Just five minutes of exercise a day may help keep your Covid-19 stress at bay

Exercise is one most effective coping mechanisms to use during the pandemic

11 July 2021 - 00:01 By Devlin Brown
Working out is one of the most effective tools in your dealing-with-life arsenal, says the writer.
Working out is one of the most effective tools in your dealing-with-life arsenal, says the writer.
Image: 123RF/lzflzf

The first six months of the year have flown by in a rapid cacophony of heartbreaking Covid-19 deaths, increased regulations, schools staying closed, bad news, good news and businesses on their knees — all at 2021km/h. Staying sane in the modern workplace is hard enough.

Staying sane during a global pandemic is even tougher because many of the coping mechanisms we usually use are either restricted or outright banned, while others place us at even greater risk of contracting Covid-19.

Not unlike trying to convince a child of the benefits of eating vegetables, trying to convince a highly strung, anxious parent - juggling working at home and home schooling - that they should exercise is easier said than done. But there's a widely accepted link between exercise and mood, though it's not clear whether people exercise because they feel good, or feel good because they exercise.

THE SCIENCE OF FEELING BETTER

Exercise is one of the most effective tools in your dealing-with-life arsenal. A study titled, in part, "Association between physical exercise and mental health in 1.2-million individuals" found that those who exercise regularly experience fewer instances of poor mental health.

In the findings, the authors write: "All exercise types were associated with a lower mental health burden than not exercising.

"The largest associations were seen for popular team sports, cycling, and aerobic and gym activities, as well as durations of 45 minutes and frequencies of three to five times per week."

Many studies show that exercising reduces anxiety and depression, increases sex drive, impacts stress relief and improves mood — and remember, mood is the lens through which we see and interpret the world.

REAL-WORLD EXPERIENCE

Martin Scheepers, a counseling and sports psychologist operating in Northcliff, Johannesburg, says the most immediate and obvious effect of exercise in relation to mental health is a reduction in anxiety.

"Regular exercise is also effective in managing depression. This is related to the release of endorphins, chemicals in the brain that are released during exercise and trigger positive feelings and emotions and, in some instances, a sense of euphoria — commonly known as the runners' high."

Whether I am treating someone for depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, work stress, grief, loss, trauma or lack of motivation, I make a point of building in exercise that's relevant to their physical status and lifestyle
Sport psychologist Martin Scheepers

Scheepers says that whenever he works with a client, regardless of gender and age, he builds exercise into his treatment intervention.

"Whether I am treating someone for depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, work stress, grief, loss, trauma or lack of motivation, I make a point of building in exercise that's relevant to their physical status and lifestyle," says Scheepers.

DITCH THE ALL-OR-NOTHING MINDSET

"In certain instances exercise is a better treatment for mild to moderate depression than antidepressant medication," adds Scheepers.

"But there's a big challenge with exercise and depression. We know that it's effective, but the clinical picture of depression includes symptoms like de-motivation, pervasive sense of apathy, loss of energy, excessive sleeping and more, all of which are counterproductive to exercise."

"The first thing I do is clear up the misconception that you have to go all-out five days a week. Even if you start with five minutes of walking a day, it makes a difference," he says.

"You just need to build the platform and extend from there. The typical response to the mention of exercise is, 'I don't like gyms' or 'I can't lift weights' or 'I don't want to run a marathon' but a 30-minute dog walk is exercise. Any moderate physical activity every day will have benefits," he says.

SLEEP IT OFF

In our always-on, screen-dominated world, it's easy to forget about the importance of sleep, but Scheepers says that sleep is vital to mood — an improved sleep pattern is one of the most beneficial side effects of regular exercise.

"With improved sleep we have increased energy, we wake up on the front foot feeling better and energised. When we start the day feeling better, our concentration and mental alertness are better, we're more productive at home and at work."


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