As social distancing drags on, people are experiencing more stress, increased symptoms of depression and anxiety, and an uptick in mental health disorders, suicide ideation, and substance abuse relapse. Reduced physical activity, sleep disruption, and increased smoking and alcohol intake during the pandemic have been associated with higher depression, anxiety and stress symptoms.
Moving our bodies regularly is one of the key elements in the ecosystem of factors that keep us mentally and emotionally balanced. The John W. Brick Mental Health Foundation is completing a review of over 4000 scientific studies on the impact of movement and exercise on mental health. The project is nearly complete, and it is clear that several types of movement can reduce stress and improve depression and anxiety. Relevant to our current situation, acute exercise has been also shown to increase immedate immunity to infection.
With gyms open off and on, people being uncertain about whether jogging or walking in pubic places is safe, and routines being disrupted – it’s tricky to get ourselves moving. For those of us who no longer commute to work, even walking from the parking lot or up the stairs to the office is gone, and for kids attending online school physical education is out. People who are depressed or anxious getting out to the mailbox can be daunting, much less doing formal exercise. As the COVID marathon continues, it is time to set in place new structures that can help us keep moving.
Here are a few tips for getting more movement into your day:
- Beat Zoom Gloom. Replace three Zoom meetings this week with moving meetings where you talk and listen while walking outside, on a treadmill, stretching, or even standing. I’ve had great responses from people when I’ve said, “I won’t be on camera today, I’m getting some walking in while we do this meeting.”
- Calendar It. Set an appointment with yourself to move your body. Make this time slot sacred, not movable or changeable, as though you were meeting with a VIP (you are a Very Important Person).
- Triple Your Moves. It’s easier to add to something you are already doing, rather than trying to do something new. If you walk your dog around the block, circle the block three times. If you walk to the mailbox, take three trips. Dancing to a song? How about three songs?
- Share the Health. Invite friends or family members on a socially distanced and masked walk, or on a walking phone call.
- Redefine Exercise. Dance while doing laundy or dishes. Work up a sweat while gardening by adding a few squats and lunges. Switch which arm you are using while cleaning the house, and pick up the pace with music. Bounce on the balls of your feet while waiting. It all counts and gets the blood pumping.
We know that changes in behavior are more successful when we set an intention, create a structure, and have a community of support. Lots of free workout apps are out there, and the John W. Brick Mental Health Foundation is hosting an event that might help. It’s called 10-10-20 Move Your Mental Health. From October 1st – October 10th, 2020 (Global Mental Health Day) you can join people from around the world who are committing to move their bodies 10 minutes a day for 10 days.
People who sign up will receive ten-minute movement videos each morning with great instructors like Wim Hof teaching his famous breathing method, Mingtong Gu leading Qigong, Lynne Brick with a Cardio Boost, shadowboxing, laughter yoga, interval training for everyone, and more, and can post their progress on social media to inspire others to get moving too. All while supporting a great cause.