It’s no secret that during the COVID-19 pandemic, healthy routines and habits suffered. With closed gyms, limited group fitness, and a decrease in daily movement, maintaining activity levels has been a challenge for many.
This lack of exercise not only has an impact on our physical body, but it can also have a huge impact on our mental well-being. With blockages a thing of the past (at least for now) and other restrictions easing up, it’s now more important than ever to get moving, says Dr. Patricia Doyle-Baker, exercise and public health expert, Dean associate (graduate) in the Faculty of Kinesiology at the University of Calgary. She says exercise and mental well-being are essential as we gradually emerge from the pandemic.
âEmotions aroused during the COVID-19 pandemic, like fear, led to less healthy habits among students, which we have seen take effect with the increase in alcohol use, substance use and decreased physical activity in a recent study by KNES graduate Madison Grande. (BSc’21) â, explains Doyle-Baker, referring to the FRESH study (Fear of COVID-19 Effect on University Behaviors) which has not yet been published.
How does exercise impact brain health?
âPhysical activity does wonders for our health, but especially for our brains,â explains Doyle-Baker. âSomething as little as taking an after-work walk or a bike ride around your neighborhood can dramatically increase mental well-being. She adds that there is an increase in blood flow to our brain when we exercise, which increases dopamine levels, subsequently helping to regulate our mood, which can include supporting positive feelings. .
Physical activity can also be a helpful strategy to reduce our anxiety and fearful thoughts. According to Doyle-Baker, “Physical activity forces us to use our brains differently, which helps us shift from irrational to clearer thinking and overcome our fears.”
In fact, much of the research shows that dopamine is linked to a class of brain chemicals called endocannabinoids. These brain chemicals are responsible for reduce anxiety and increase our contentment. Exercise provides us with a positive way to anticipate pleasure and increases our sense of motivation.
Resume exercise routines
With all this good news linking exercise to mental well-being, how does Doyle-Baker suggest those who have become more sedentary to reintegrate or introduce exercise into their routines?
âThe best way to start is to put more activity into your typical day,â she says. âIf you can, take the stairs on campus or at home, where you could normally take an elevator. Walk outdoors rather than indoors when leaving classes or meetings, or walk around the block at the start or end of a workday – breathing fresh air is a must. additional bonus for our health.
Doyle-Baker suggests that after introducing more activities, start to consider adding more intense exercises such as cardio, then increase the duration of the workouts, incorporate resistance training, and perhaps consider be a local workout or on the campus group fitness class.
Doyle-Baker says there are benefits to training with other people: âRemember that feeling of happiness with exercise, aka the dopamine response? This neurotransmitter might further increase our need to connect with others, so finding a friend or coworker to stay active with might not only help us stay active, but further improve our well-being and sense of connection.
There are many ways to get your body moving on campus. UCalgary has one of the largest recreation programs in North America. With resources such as Outdoor center and Fitness center, it is much easier to go back to – where to start – a healthy lifestyle.
To learn more about the activities that the University of Calgary has to offer, please visit active-life.ucalgary.ca