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4 Ways to improve your mental and physical health during the pandemic

Since the beginning of the pandemic, depressive feelings reported by the general population have significantly increased - doubling in the last six months

pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has been with us since January, but it didn’t get registered as a serious threat until March. It was then when alarm bells went off across Europe and North America. Since then it has been six months of lockdowns and restrictions. Schools have been closed, parents have been forced to work from home and all have felt (and are still feeling) isolated.

Spending some time outdoors can be a great way to deal with the stress caused by the pandemic. Photo: Getty Images

Well down on our priority lists, relative to the suffering and loss these past months, are mass event races and gatherings. Granted, some events have been able to give some hope by adapting – imposing restrictions on race numbers and increasing waves and ensuring distancing. However, now more than ever, training, even just going out to clear your mind and sweat, is important for our physical and mental health. 

To highlight just how important exercise and physical activity is, since the beginning of the pandemic, depressive feelings reported by the general population have significantly increased. Originally reported by the BBC, the Office of National Statistics in the UK published findings that before the COVID-19 pandemic, one in ten people reported depressive feelings or symptoms. Now, six months into the pandemic, one in five people report depressive feelings and symptoms. These numbers are based on a screening questionnaire, so while it does not diagnosis an individual with depression, it does give information on the general thoughts of an individual. 

pandemic
Statistics from the Office of National Statistics in the UK report that depressive feelings and symptoms have doubled since the beginning of the pandemic.

While the UK may have been the first to publish such numbers, they’re certainly not alone. The COVID pandemic has taken such a toll on everyone around the world. Though it may look different from place to place, the impact is very real and present wherever you are. Here are four proven ways to help both your mental and physical health during the pandemic.

Physical Activity

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Many studies in recent years have been published on the positive impact physical activity has on mental health. One such study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), found that by being physically active, depressive symptoms decreased. This effect, the exercise effect, mood enhancement occurs typically within five minutes of moderate exercise.

Related: Exercise makes your body and brain fit

It also is worth repeating, physical activity, whether it is a morning walk or a structured training session, is good for the body. Reducing our sedentary behaviour (i.e. sitting at a desk) throughout the is just as important as doing a turbo session. During the day be sure to stand up and go for a walk or move around the house. This is not only good for our physical bodies, but also our mental being.

Routine

Routines are good for our days. They take a bit of planning early on, especially if you’re trying to develop new habits or have new goals, however they provide purpose and structure. While managing work, school, family, training and the impact of COVID-19, try to have a routine for each day. 

Related: Goal setting for training, racing and life

Diet

There is debate as to whether diet can influence the development of depression, or depression can influence a change in diet. Regardless of what comes first, diet is crucial to your physical, mental and emotional well being. 

Photo: Getty Images

In an analysis published in Psychiatry Research, the western diet – generalized characterized by high intakes of processed meat, fried foods, high-fat dairy products, and refined grains – is significantly associated with an increased risk of depression. While a balanced diet, i.e. Canada’s updated Food Guide or the Mediterranean diet, is associated with a decreased risk of depression.

Related: Mediterranean diet found to improve endurance performanceCanada’s Food Guide gets its first major update since 2007

Socialization

We are social beings. Whether you are a natural introvert or extrovert, we all need a certain degree of socialization with friends and family. Social interactions with a long time friend or family member offer support, belonging and security. And given the current circumstances, it is a very real and present longing for (more) in-person interactions. 

Thankfully, many of the social restrictions are being reduced. While distancing is still practiced, we can now begin to see friends and family, some we may have not seen for months. And this is good, human interaction is good for our mental health. While tedious, Zoom calls are good for our mental health, but in person is far better. In a study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, researchers found that having limited face-to-face social contact nearly doubles someone’s risk of having depression. Participants of the study who met regularly with family and friends were less likely to report symptoms of depression, compared with participants who emailed or spoke on the telephone. While this study was made up of an elderly population, the nature of the study couldn’t be more applicable now. Highlighting the importance of face-to-face interaction when it comes to mental health. 

Note: This does not give people the right to disobey restrictions, rules or guidelines. However, if within the rules, as well as not exposing others to risks, it would be encouraged to rekindle face-to-face meetings with select people as we come out of restrictions.