We're now several weeks into a national lockdown. For many, this has had a notably negative affect on mental health. Those suffering have reported experiencing increased amounts of stress and anxiety. With people worrying about their jobs, paying the bills and keeping a roof over their heads, as well as a potentially deadly disease that could strike at any time, it's no surprise that some are feeling fraught. So what can we do to improve our mental health during this time?
The governments have been telling us to exercise at least once a day. They tell us that it will help with our mental health. Most broadly agree with this. However, to make sure we get the best from our efforts we decided to research this idea a little further.
Here are a few of our findings.
1. All exercise is worthwhile
Generally, all forms of exercise are good for your mental health. Whether you choose to walk, run, life weights, cycle or do otherwise, your exertion will cause your body to release chemicals, such as endorphins and dopamine, which give your mood a boost. Similarly, it is believed to have a meditative effect, helping you to relax and reduce stress levels. So, as long as you don't over-exert yourself or do yourself an injury, your chosen form of exercise will help.
2. Walking is a great place to start
Being stressed and anxious doesn't always inspire us to rush out and do the most active sports like swimming or running. An easy walk is a valid alternative. Walking is widely believed to have a calming affect. If you want, put on some running gear just to give you the option to speed things up.
3. Running, Yoga and HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) are great for stress relief
Different exercise regimes produce similarly calming effects.
Running is a valuable form of exercise. A mere 15 minutes of running can have as much benefit as an hour of walking. The value of running is frequently put down to what is known as the 'runners high'. This is when body responds by producing chemicals that give a feeling of positivity and well-being. As well an initial euphoria, anxiety and stress levels remain reduced for some time.
Yoga, although much less intense, has a similarly relaxing influence. Working on fluid movement and breathing techniques, it can significantly reduce stress. The focus that it requires is believed to have a calming effect and to reduce anxiety. One study has shown that 85% of participants report reduced stress levels.
High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) has getting a lot of interest lately. Needing little room, it can be done in the privacy of your own home. Workouts involves a series of different exercises, including push-ups, squats, sprinting on the spot, etc.
The value of HIIT is that it reduces cortisol, the body's primary 'stress hormone'. Typically produced when a person needs to be more alert (to fight, or flight), elevated levels can induce stress, anxiety and depression. Regular HIIT will keep cortisol and its negative effects under control.