2020 has been a year full of anxiety! People around the world have suffered from excessive worries and quarantines imposed by governments. Mental health has had and still has a lot to suffer. Here’s how exercise can protect it!
As the year 2020 was a difficult one for the population’s mental health, it is good to have at hand effective tools in protecting it. One such powerful tool is exercise. It has long been known that exercise has a mood-boosting effect and several recently published studies show that it can reduce depression, anxiety and support overall mental health.
Exercise = better mental health
A 2018 study wanted to find out the impact of regular training on mental health. Data from more than 1.2 million Americans were analyzed and it was found that those who exercised regularly had much better mental health than those who were not very physically active.
All forms of exercise have been associated with better mental health. Team sports and those connected to the mind and body, such as yoga or thai chi, had the highest scores. During the coronavirus era, options are more limited, especially team sports, but it has been shown that cycling, aerobic exercise and weight training can reduce poor mental health by 20%.
It was also seen that the effect of exercise on mental health was greater than other factors, such as income. The physically active people felt as good as the less physically active but who earned better.
Another key finding is that more sports are not always better. The relationship between exercise and mental health is U-shaped, where too little or no exercise is as bad as too much. Mental health is at its best when you do 3-4 workouts a week, which lasts at least 45 minutes each. Mental health benefits stop at over 90 minutes of exercise a day. In 90 minutes it starts to become harmful, and those who did more than 3 hours of sports daily, had poorer mental health than sedentary people.
A second study, published in response to the coronavirus crisis and general quarantine, also looked at the link between physical activity and mental health in Chinese students during quarantine in their country. The profoundly negative effect of social isolation on the mind was found and methods were sought to combat it. The 66 participants answered questions from a questionnaire every two weeks, for 6 weeks, recording the activity, sleep quality, etc.
Physical activity has been consistently linked to lower rates of depression, aggression and negative emotions. As in the previous study, a dose-dependent curve was observed between physical activity and negative emotions, too little and too much being just as harmful.
The optimal average of physical activity is 100 minutes of light exercise, 80 minutes of moderate exercise and 45 minutes of intense exercise, daily – higher figures than those observed in the previous study. It is suggested that in these difficult times more physical activity is needed to counteract the negative emotions and worries caused by social distancing and the pandemic.
It is an important aspect because there has been an increase in sedentary lifestyle since the beginning of the health crisis. And with the closing of gyms, it has been difficult for many to continue to exercise at home, both in terms of quality and quantity they need to maintain their mental health.
How to get the benefits of exercise on mental health?
The first step is to establish a daily training routine. Coronavirus has turned many plans upside down, which increases the importance of accurate sports planning. To intentionally make time for exercising each day decreases the likelihood of looking for excuses to skip workouts. Make sure you devote a small part of the day to sports every day! The benefits of sports appear when you train a series of workouts in a row. Every workout counts!
Do strength training as well
With the closing of the gyms, many have completely given up on strength training. For a few weeks, it’s not the end of the world. The body holds on his muscles and strength relatively well, despite short inactivity. But things are going downhill as the months go by. Studies show significant loss of strength, muscle and mobility when training is interrupted for 6 months or more.
You can do strength training with body weight, suspended harnesses (TRX) and dumbbells or kettlebelle dumbbells. Strength training also has the ability to regulate the run-or-fight response, which makes you more resistant to stress.
Be balanced when doing your physical conditioning
You don’t want to kill yourself with too intense cardio and too much volume, because this will increase your body’s response to stress and can make you afraid of training. Low intensity (walks) or low volume (intensity intervals) are the ideal solutions that do not stress your body excessively, but will increase your mental state. For example, you can try the Wingate protocol on a running track or on a stationary bike: 4 sprints of 30 seconds each with an active break of 4 minutes between them (walking or easy pedaling).
Do mind-body exercises
Yoga, thai chi, martial arts, all lower anxiety and improve your mood. Such activities stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, the one which induces calm and relaxation. They can also reduce cortisol and inflammation!