The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about a lot of change.
Many people—not just us busy New Yorkers—were able to slow down mentally and physically. And of course, this can be beneficial in various ways.
But for some, it also translated to a lack of movement.
In fact, I recently discussed this negative impact with two patients. And I envision having the same conversation with countless people over the coming months.
Because all that energy we used to spend—on endless, mundane activities that people do over the course of an average day—simply stopped.
Instead of walking around the supermarket aisles, people had groceries delivered. Instead of commuting to the office, they clicked Zoom links. Instead of hitting the gym, they binged Netflix.
And the overall impact on our health is noticeable, to say the least…
Movement and mental health declined
According to recently published research, people who spent more time sitting between April and June 2020 were more likely to suffer from symptoms of depression.
This study looked at how changes in daily physical activity levels affected mental health, thinking patterns, and perspective. And, well… they call it “sitting disease” for a reason, folks.
The research team collected data from more than 3,000 subjects who reported on how they spent time—whether exercising, sitting, or looking at screens—both before and after the pandemic hit. They also reported changes to mental health—like depression, anxiety, stress, and loneliness.
Results showed that participants who had been meeting standard U.S. guidelines of 2.5 to 5 hours of moderate to vigorous exercise weekly before the pandemic saw their activity levels drop by nearly a third, on average. And unsurprisingly, these same subjects reported more depression, anxiety, and loneliness.
Researchers administered the same survey every week from April to June of 2020, to track mental health and behavioral changes. And the good news is, people did see improvements as they adjusted to pandemic life.
Subjects whose sitting times remained high, however, did not bounce back in the same way. Their depressive symptoms stuck around longer and never fully resolved.
Even a little goes a very long way
Data collected from June 2020 to June 2021 should be available to the public soon. And if it in any way reflects my own experience during that year-long timeframe, I expect the results to show a real emotional rollercoaster.
So, if you’re still struggling to adjust to the abrupt and massive changes this pandemic forced on us all—well, I hope you’ll find comfort in knowing you’re not alone. But I also hope you’ll make a commitment to yourself to make some changes.
I understand both good and bad habits are tough to start or stop. But remember, when it comes to physical activity and your health, even a little bit goes a very long way. (That’s especially true when it comes to your mood and mental health!)
And as this study suggests, even everyday activities—not just gym workouts, but commuting, socializing, and running errands—play a critical role in your overall health, too.
So please, find ways to build it into your day—even if it’s just taking regular breaks to stand up when you find yourself sitting for longer periods of time. If you’re still working from home, you can also try walking around the yard or block before and after the workday to simulate the time you would have been spending on your pre-pandemic commute.
It may seem like a small thing, but the important part is that you keep moving. Trust me when I say that your body and your psyche will thank you for it!
For additional ways to keep thriving through the continued chaos of COVID-19, check out the January 2021 issue of my monthly Logical Health Alternatives newsletter, where I outline six resolutions to help keep you on track. (Resolution No. 1 includes exercise, and No. 2 outlines ways to continue supporting your mental health.) So if you haven’t already, consider becoming a subscriber today. Click here now!
“Sitting more linked to increased feelings of depression, anxiety.” Iowa State University, 11/08/2021. (news.iastate.edu/news/2021/11/08/sittingdepression)