Simple Tips to Help You Get Moving and Boost Mental Well-Being
Among the many consequences of the COVID-19 lockdowns are limitations on physical activity. New research reinforces the mental health benefits of physical activity and exercise as pandemic restrictions continue.
Physical activity is associated with lower levels of depression and anxiety and conversely, sedentary behavior is associated with depressive and anxiety symptoms. Time spent in sedentary behaviors has also been associated with adverse physical health outcomes such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, cancer and type II diabetes. Self-isolation and other limitations imposed during the pandemic can lead to decreased physical activity and increased time spent in sedentary activities.
An international group of researchers led Felipe Schuch, Ph.D., looked at the connection between vigorous physical activity, sedentary time and symptoms of depression and anxiety among nearly 1,000 people in self-isolation during the pandemic. Nearly half of the participants spent more than 30 minutes per day in moderate to vigorous physical activity and they were less likely to experience depressive, or anxiety symptoms. Those spending 15 minutes or more per day of vigorous activity showed similar results. One-third of the participants spent more than 10 hours per day sitting and they were more likely to experience depressive symptoms.
Writing in the Journal of Affective Disorders, researchers Rowan Diamond and Erin Byrd note that synergistic relationship between sedentary behavior and mental well-being. Sedentary behavior is likely to exaggerate mood problems and depressed mood contributes to greater sedentary behavior, leading to a cycle of declining mental health.
As we move into winter and colder weather, many of us may get out to exercise even less. The seasonal change makes getting up and moving all that more important. Diamond and Byrd suggest several evidence-based ways to reduce sedentary behavior, adapted for life at home during the pandemic:
- Using external cues – for example, using a fitness app or other timer as a regular reminder to get up and move.
- Moving more frequently – such as having ‘walk and talk’ meetings or listening to an audio book while walking or other activity.
- Maximizing movement while waiting – trying to make a habit of moving while you’re waiting, like doing a few stretches while waiting for water to boil.
- Reallocating time - identifying specific times during the day that are more sedentary and replacing even 10 minutes of that time with light physical activity.
- Workstation alternatives – for example, using a sit/stand workstation with an aim of spending several hours a day standing.
- Restructuring the physical environment – for example, creating exercise stations in places that will be reminders to take activity breaks during sedentary time.
- Recruiting help from others – involving others in your household or friends or family via video chat can help keep it interesting and keep you on track.
“As lifestyles are being disrupted and people are experiencing more challenges to their mental health, increasing or maintaining movement is crucial to help prevent deterioration in mental health and to relieve existing symptoms,” write Diamond and Byrd. They note that these techniques to help people move more “can be adopted during lockdown for immediate impact but also to build new habits for beneficial effects in the future.”
- Schuch, F.B., et al. Associations of moderate to vigorous physical activity and sedentary behavior with depressive and anxiety symptoms in self-isolating people during the COVID-19 pandemic: A cross-sectional survey in Brazil. Psychiatry Research, Vol. 292, October 2020
- Diamond, R, Byrd, E. Standing up for health – improving mental wellbeing during COVID-19 isolation by reducing sedentary behaviour. Journal of Affective Disorders, August 2020, 277:232-234