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For better mental health, keep active – even in winter!

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As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disrupt and change life as we know it, our workplaces have ceased to be the places where we spend most of our waking hours. Our homes have now become the centre of our universes. We sleep, eat, work, and entertain ourselves at home.

While, on the one hand, this sudden change in our routine has provided some welcomed perks and benefits, on the other, this abrupt disruption has also presented new challenges for us. One of them being the challenge of staying healthy and productive when the things that used to help us cope and keep us well are no longer available.

Given the current state of the world, it’s no surprise that a lot of people are experiencing mental health issues. With each lockdown, it becomes more and more difficult to stay optimistic and keep moving forward. Unfortunately, there’s no magic pill or magic wand that can restore our sense of well-being. The good news though is that our minds and bodies are very resilient. With the right set of tools and strategies, we can overcome any obstacles and accomplish great things.

Go with the science
According to research on neurobiology, exercise is a powerful strategy that can help us better deal with stressors and improve our mood. From a physiological perspective, too much stress, whether physical or psychological, can worsen our health. By engaging in exercise, we can reduce the risk of certain diseases worsening. In addition to this, our bodies secrete beta-endorphins when we exercise, which are the body's very own natural antidepressant. In other words, when we exercise, we can feel less pain and more pleasure.

When a person is struggling with depression and is feeling drained of energy, it may seem counterproductive to engage in exercise as it requires more energy exertion. And, sure, although it’s true that energy is required to engage in exercise, it’s also true that in order to generate more energy we have to invest some energy to begin with.

If a person is feeling very low, the advice would be to start small and gradually increase their activity level. For example, if a person does not currently engage in exercise and struggles with low energy and mental health issues, the recommendation would be start by going on short walks every day. As this new routine becomes integrated and the body starts to feel better, it will be easier to add another activity or engage in a different type of exercise. The key here is to take small and incremental steps.

It can also be difficult to exercise when we can’t afford a gym membership, or we don’t have access to a gym because of lockdowns. Fortunately for some of us, it may not be too difficult to get the body moving without entering a gym. If you are one of those people who does not have access to a gym right now, you can try the following exercises at home:

  • Jumping jacks for 4-5 minutes: play your favourite music and jump around!
  • Planks: hold it for as long as you can and remember to breathe
  • Push-ups: do as many as you can while maintaining the correct form
  • Bicycle crunches: do as many as you can and remember to pull your abdominal muscles inward
  • Squats: add a dumbbell or barbell if you have any and do as many reps as your legs can handle
  • Fast paced walks: get outside and walk at a fast pace to raise your heart rate
  • Go for a run around your neighbourhood

There are also many online companies that offer different types of classes at a very low price. My favourite site for Yoga and Pilates is www.glo.com and it costs me $20/month. All I really need is a mat and some space for my practice.

Other important facts to keep in mind are that for exercise to yield positive results, it needs to occur on a regular basis. Consistency is more effective than intensity. Also, the type of exercise has to be something that the person desires to do and is not forced to do.

Lastly, don’t overdo it. Too much of a good thing can hurt the body. You only need to exercise for 20 to 30 minutes at a time, a few times a week, to get the health benefits. If physical exercise is not an option for you at this time, there are other strategies you can use to improve how you feel. Below are some of them:

  • Socialize from a distance
  • Practice mindfulness
  • Take time to relax and unwind
  • Spend time in nature
  • Manage your screen time
  • Develop new hobbies or continue to cultivate your current ones
  • Dance at home
  • Play music
  • Get a massage
  • Meditate
  • Play games
  • Laugh
  • Seek professional care and emotional support when you need it

With the right set of tools and strategies, we can overcome any obstacles and accomplish great things.

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