Exercise is an escape for a lot of us, a way to blow of steam and declutter the mind. So, when gyms closed last year due to the pandemic, it made getting that stress-relief a little bit more difficult.
With this in mind, McMaster University conducted a study into exercise habits during the pandemic. The research found that “the pandemic has created a paradox where mental health has become both a motivator and a barrier to physical activity”1.
So, whether you exercise for the sake of your mental health, or you’re struggling to exercise because of your mental health, you’re certainly not alone. Let’s dive into some of the further findings, and how it has helped researchers develop evidence-based advice for those struggling with motivation.
Researchers at McMaster University identified the change in activity levels and mental health caused by the pandemic, and wanted to understand how and why this change happened further.
The researchers surveyed 1,669 individuals ranging from ages 18-29. The participants took part in a survey which determined their demographic, past and present activity levels, and past and present mental health status1. The survey asked the participants to recollect their mental health and exercise habits from 6 months prior to the pandemic, compared to their habits and feelings in the midst of it.
It should be noted that this study could be slightly limited due to the smaller age range included2.
As we’re sure you all know, keeping a regular exercise routine has been a little more difficult over the last year, and the results of this study have corroborated that sentiment.
The study suggests that whilst people are aware of the connection between exercise and reduced stress, “many respondents felt too anxious to exercise”1. Participants also highlighted heightened levels of stress and “moderate”1 levels of anxiety as a result of the pandemic, but many didn’t turn to exercise despite the promise of endorphins.
It was instead found that aerobic activity decreased by about 20 minutes per week, strength training decreased by around 30 minutes per week, and sedentary time increased by about 30 minutes per week.1
The researchers found a pretty clear correlation between activity and mental health in this study. Those who reported the biggest decrease in exercise and general activity also reported the biggest decline in their mental health, whilst those who managed to stay pretty active through the pandemic, reported a much healthier mental state.
From the data gathered, researchers were able to formulate an “evidence-based toolkit”1 for anyone struggling to get moving. Their tips included…
- Adopt the mindset of “something is better than nothing”1. So, avoid putting pressure on yourself, even if it’s just a 10-minute walk, that’s progress1
- Lower the intensity of your exercise if you’re feeling anxious, this will make it much less intimidating1
- Move a little bit every day1
- Break up your day by standing at your desk instead of sitting, or doing little stretches every few hours1
- Designate time especially for your workouts, this should help you stick to more of a routine1
Take Home Message
If you needed any more reason to get your workout in today, this is it.
Exercise clearly has a positive impact on mental health, and although many mental health conditions can leave us with no motivation to workout, when you start small with little bursts of movement throughout the day, you’ll only be setting yourself up to feel better. And hopefully, once you develop more of a habit with your exercise, you’ll keep chasing those endorphins, and be able to stick to more of a routine.