Lockdown has unfortunately resulted in reduced opportunities for exercise – but this should not stop us. After all, we have a lot more time on our hands now. Simply being outside is one of the best ways to spend your time, not least because of the mental health benefits that can be reaped.
Exercise has long been a great way to raise self-esteem and lower anxiety, as well as giving us something to keep busy with. Activity can combat rises in levels of stress hormones such as cortisol and noradrenaline. This in turn reduces that feeling of panic and the negative symptoms that come with it, such as loss of appetite and sweating. Furthermore, making progress with your 5k run or extending your stamina gives a feeling of achievement – hence, the boost in self-worth.
Perhaps most importantly, exercise can even reduce the risk of depression. The Harvard T.H Chan School of Medical Health has found that physical exertion reduces the chance of a depressive state by up to 26% – as effective as anti-depressants, without any of the stigma. Many have theorised that exercise reduces cranial inflammation, releases endorphins (endogenous morphine) and (at the very least) serves as a distraction from the snowballing negative thoughts that can reinforce depression.
Exercise and activity can also be a great way to meet and connect with new people. Whether its joining a local tennis or football club (all socially distanced of course), the social interaction that results can be deeply beneficial for our wellbeing. A study also showed that people feel calm and focused after a period of physical exertion. Not only is this a good mental state to be in but is also better for productivity and work. Most interestingly, exercise has been shown to have a greater effect when mood is at its lowest.
Exercise is all well and good, but here’s a quick tip: combining an element of mindfulness into physical activity really elevates its benefits. As you run, focus as you pound the pavement, breathe or feel the wind against your skin. Moving from thought to sensation can interrupt the worries that move through your mind, which consequently can reduce any stress you may have. Live in the moment is the main message here.
Lockdown can be a struggle, but it does not have to mean that all is lost. Exercise is the definitive way to fight off the blues. So, if you are feeling a bit down or in a foggy state of mind, get out there and have fun!