Pandemic Stress Keeps Many From Exercising

MONDAY, April 19, 2021 (HealthDay News) — Exercise can provide a much-needed mental health boost during the COVID-19 pandemic. But stress and anxiety may hold you back, new research suggests.

According to a survey by researchers at McMaster University in Canada, some people may need mental health support to exercise during the pandemic.

“Maintaining a regular exercise program is difficult at the best of times, and the conditions surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic may be making it even more difficult,” said study co-author Jennifer Heisz, an associate professor in the department of kinesiology.

“Even though exercise comes with the promise of reducing anxiety, many respondents felt too anxious to exercise. Likewise, although exercise reduces depression, respondents who were more depressed were less motivated to get active, and lack of motivation is a symptom of depression,” she said in a university news release.

For the study, the researchers surveyed more than 1,600 people to find out how and why their mental health and physical activity have changed since the start of the pandemic. The respondents reported higher levels of psychological stress and moderate levels of anxiety and depression triggered by the pandemic.

Overall, aerobic activity fell about 20 minutes a week, strength training fell about 30 minutes a week, and inactivity increased about 30 minutes a day, compared with the six months before the pandemic, the findings showed.

People with the largest decreases in physical activity had the worst declines in mental health, while those who maintained their exercise levels did much better in terms of mental health, according to the researchers.

The study was published online recently in the journal PLOS ONE.

“Our results point to the need for additional psychological supports to help people maintain their physical activity levels during stressful times in order to minimize the burden of the pandemic and prevent the development of a mental health crisis,” Heisz said.

The researchers offered the following advice to get or remain active during the pandemic:

  • Remember that some exercise is better than none.
  • Move a little every day.
  • Reduce your exercise intensity if you feel anxious.
  • Break up sedentary time with breaks to stand or move.
  • Schedule time for exercise.

More information

The World Health Organization has more on physical activity during the COVID-19 pandemic.

SOURCE: McMaster University, news release, April 12, 2021