Exercise During the Pandemic… and thereafter

JH hikingJanet Hall, RN, NP, Certified Personal Trainer

 In the early days of the shelter-in-place order, it seemed unfathomable that it would last more than a few days. Feelings of fear, anger, sadness, loneliness, grief, anxiety or depression (or varying degrees off them all) were overwhelming for most of us. Many of us grappled to regain a sense of autonomy and control over our lives and we struggled to see more than a few days ahead. But now there is evidence all around us that we may be “getting back to normal”  or, more appropriately, to start to carve out a “new normal” sometime soon.

A couple of weeks into the pandemic, I believe I started to experience an internal shift which lead to a decision to try to adapt, rather than resist, to a new reality… “intentional resilience” was a phrase that repeatedly came to mind. And the only way that I knew how to do this was to quite intentionally release all things, people and situations that I could not control and, instead, focus all of my energy on those that I could.  I immediately curtailed the influx of unreliable media sources and governmental messages. My next step was to establish a regular exercise routine. I was surprised at how quickly these two changes brought on a renewed sense of peace and motivation… I began to feel as if I could take a deep, full breath again. My sleep and food choices improved. I was (much!) nicer to my family. I smiled and laughed easier…

 

Exercise is a gift, a conscious choice, to be accessed easily and frequently.

 

But, in order for it to be sustainable, it has to be desirable. This begins with taking a look at what motivates us, that is, understanding what drives us to exercise is crucial to sustained physical activity. Simply knowing the recommendations for physical activity (i.e.: 30 minutes of moderate exercise, 5 days per week on average) is often not enough to motivate long-term.

 

After a bit self-examination and research, I’ve come up with a three “COVID19-related motivators” for regular exercise:

 

  • Effect on our immune systems: There is no true way or reason to “boost” our immune systems. Our main goal should be to maintain a strong immune system and exercise a vital component – research shows that regular exercise can prevent or at least reduce the severity of respiratory complications related to the Corona virus. There is also new research that shows that exercise enhances the circulation of a powerful antioxidant (EcSOD) which is helpful for people with lung, heart, kidney and autoimmune diseases. Data shows that even one single exercise event is helpful to immune function!

 

  • Improved mood: Exercise releases neurotransmitters in our brain (i.e.: Gaba, Dopamine and Serotonin) that help reduce anxiety and depression. Evidence shows that moderate exercise (e.g.: a 20-30 minute walk after dinner) will brighten your mood significantly! We all feel better when our weight is down, our muscles feel toned, our clothes fit well… we begin to drink more water, make wiser food choices, and stand up straighter when we exercise at regular intervals. During these times of uncertainty, regular exercise will help us maintain a sense of autonomy and control over our lives. Looking forward, our goals for our “new normal” should include our new exercise routines which will help in coping (just in case more unexpected changes that may come our way!

 

  • Fun: Knowing what you enjoy is extremely important particularly for those who normally who do not find exercise fun… being outdoors? playing with your children? surrounding yourself in nature? Perhaps there is there an activity that you enjoyed before the (greater than?) 40-hour work week or grueling commute that you would like to circle back to? What new activity or workout interests you? Many of us are surprised by how much we enjoyed an activity that we previously viewed as “un-fun!” There are countless (often free) online resources for a variety of yoga, Pilates, Zumba, HIIT, dance (alone or with a partner), resistance training, and many others.

 

Friends, give yourselves the gift of exercise…

 

Whether it is to get into excellent physical condition or making a conscious choice to be kinder and gentler to yourself and your loved ones… everyone’s goal is different. Allow yourselves the release of tension and anxiety and open yourselves up to feeling better, breathing deeper and, most important, smiling more.

References:

Should, and how can, exercise be done during a coronavirus outbreak? An interview with Dr. Jeffrey A. Woods Weimo Zhu  J Sport Health Sci. 2020 Mar; 9(2): 105–107.

 

Nieman D.C., Wentz L.M. The compelling link between physical activity and the body’s defense system. J Sport Health Sci. 2019;8:201–217.

 

Campbell J.P., Turner J.E. Debunking the myth of exercise-induced immune suppression: redefining the impact of exercise on immunological health across the lifespan. Front Immunol. 2018;9:648.

https://news.virginia.edu/content/exercise-may-protect-against-deadly-covid-19-complication-research-suggests

 

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