It’s been a difficult year, but regular exercise can improve our mental wellbeing during lockdown
To say that this past year has been a bit tough would be quite the understatement. After seemingly getting over the worst of it by late summer, we now find ourselves back where we started. Fortunately, as the vaccine continues to roll out the end appears finally to be in sight. For many people however, the end of lockdown won’t be the end of their struggle.
This past year has affected everyone differently, for many it’s been traumatic, for others it’s been incredibly lonely, for some it’s just been mind-numbingly boring. Whilst everyone’s been affected differently, one thing’s for certain, the pandemic has had a devasting effect, not just on our physical health but on our mental wellbeing.
The sad reality is, as one pandemic ends, another may only be just beginning, with leading physiatrists warning we may be facing the worst mental health crisis since the Second World War. Even with the relief of lockdown being finally lifted, for many people the tough times won’t be over.
Here at My Fitness Advisor we believe that regular exercise is a brilliant and accessible way to help combat the struggles we’ve all faced over the past year.
Before we take a look at how regular exercise can improve our mental wellbeing during lockdown, it’s important to acknowledge that whilst it can certainly help, exercise isn’t a magical cure for those seriously afflicted by mental illness. Those suffering from severe mental health issues should seek the help of a professional or contact their GP to assess their best course of action. Similarly, there are a range of charities that can offer support to anyone struggling with mental illness, some of which are listed below.
A mental health crisis?
Research by the Centre for Mental Health suggests that up to 10 million people in England will need new or additional mental health support as a result of the pandemic. It is expected that 1.5 million of these will be under the age of 18. Similarly, a survey by mental health charity YoungMinds into the effects of the pandemic on young people with pre-existing mental health conditions found that 83 percent had experienced worsening in their condition.
It’s not just those with pre-existing conditions who have faced mental health struggles because of the pandemic. According to Dr Kate Lovett, dean of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, people with no previous history of mental illness have developed physiological problems as a direct consequence of lockdown. She stated,
“people are presenting for the first time with symptoms of serious mood disorders, such as mania, significant depression, and psychotic episodes. These have been triggered by significant stress and life events associated with the pandemic and the lockdown.”
How can exercise help?
According to the UK government guidelines, we should be aiming for at least 150 minutes of moderate activity such as brisk walking or cycling per week. Whilst this might seem a lot at first, when broken down into smaller chunks it’s perfectly manageable and has significant benefits – getting this regular exercise can improve our mental wellbeing during lockdown!
Hitting the 150-minute mark every week can help alleviate the effects of mild or moderate depression. When we exercise, our brains release endorphins, giving us a euphoric boost for a period after the activity. Even just a brisk 10-minute walk leads to increased energy levels, alertness and feelings of positivity! These feelings of elation might be temporary but regular exercise has significant long-term effects. Frequent exercise leads to changes in the brain creating new activity patterns leaving us feeling calm and can improve our mental wellbeing.
For those suffering from a mental health condition, this can have a tangible effect on the impact it has on day-to-day life. A 2018 study into the relationship between regular exercise and individuals with mental illness found that those who exercised for 45 minutes a day three times a week suffered four days fewer poor days on mental health than those who did no exercise.
It’s not just those already affected by mental illness that can benefit from regular exercise, the same study also revealed that those who regularly exercised had 1.5 fewer “bad days” per month compared to those who didn’t. As those affected by mental illness continue to grow during the pandemic it’s important to do everything we can to try and keep on top of our mental health and reduce our own risk of struggling.
Regular exercise can play a significant role in the prevention of mental health conditions just as it can in alleviating symptoms. A recent study by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, revealed that 15-mintues if running or an hour’s walk per day can reduce the risk of depression by 26 percent.
Finally, with the ever-changing to tier system, not knowing if you’ll see your family for Christmas, or realising you’ve run out of Tiger King episodes to binge, this past year has certainly been a stressful one! The long-term effects of stress can be both physically harmful and lead to feelings of depression and anxiety.
It’s important then we do our best to manage stress levels in these tough times and regular exercise is a simple and effective way of doing it. Research shows that after physical activity people experience lower less of stress-related hormones as well as increasing levels of norepinephrine, a chemical in the brain which regulates stress.
As we enter the final stretch of the pandemic, it’s more important than ever that we try and get active as regular exercise can improve our mental wellbeing during lockdown!
Mental Health Support
CALM is the Campaign Against Living Miserably. A charity providing a mental health helpline and webchat.
Phone: 0800 58 58 58 (daily, 5pm to midnight)
Promotes the views and needs of people with mental health problems.
Phone: 0300 123 3393 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 6pm)
Confidential support for people experiencing feelings of distress or despair.
Phone: 116 123 (free 24-hour helpline)
Learn and expand your knowledge from our other blog posts here!
We hope after reading this post you have seen how regular exercise can improve our mental wellbeing during lockdown!
If you looking for an online fitness class we have a range of fantastic partners for you to choose from HERE!