Sometimes, we can all put exercise in the ‘too hard basket’. Especially when there’s something so significant happening, such as the global health pandemic of COVID-19. The Government has restricted our access to gymnasiums, we are being told to be socially distant and to stay at home, it’s no wonder that exercise has fallen to the wayside for most. However, now may be the most important time to remain physically active.
Firstly, what is COVID-19 or Coronavirus? Well, the Australian Government – Department of Health recently identified that Coronaviruses are a large collective group of viruses, known to cause respiratory infections(1).
So what’s the role of exercise in all of this?
Well, recent evidence has suggested that not only can leading a physically active lifestyle reduce the incident of communicable diseases (e.g. bacterial and viral infections) but also non-communicable diseases (e.g. cancer)(2).
Current evidence suggests that regular physical activity can enhance immune function in people of all ages(3), even in those in adolescence (4) who may sometimes be considered to be invincible.
However, it’s not just our physical health that we have to watch out for in the current climate. We must be mindful of our mental health, and the mental health of those around us. We are all being made to ‘isolate’ and, for some, we are being asked to stay away from loved ones who may be at higher risk of becoming infected.
Excessive sedentary behaviours are related to poorer mental health outcomes(5). Thus, increasing sedentary behaviours, such as increased screen usage, can lead to higher levels of stress, greater mood disturbances and poorer quality of sleep(5).
Exercise has proven to be of benefit in adolescent psychological well-being(6), and is often associated with the release of endorphins, also referred to as the ‘feel-good brain chemicals’ (7), which exist to relieve pain and stress. Other important mood regulatory hormones, such as dopamine and serotonin are released during physical activity (7). These chemical changes play a vital role in balancing and regulating one’s mood(7).
The current physical activity recommendations for children aged between 5 and 12 years-of-age is to be physically active for at least 60 minutes per day, of moderate or vigorous intensity, and limit screen time to less than two hours per day. For those aged between 12 and 18 years-old, they too should be engaging in at least 60 minutes of physical activity daily at a moderate-vigorous intensity(8). Finally, for adults aged between 18 and 64 years-of-age, an accumulation of at least 150-300 minutes per week of moderate or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous intensity exercise should be the aim(9).
If you’re thinking ‘how can I be physically active and achieve these recommendations when I can’t leave the house?’, well you wouldn’t be alone. However, there is an abundance of great resources you can use to be active at home. An Accredited Exercise Physiologist at PsychPhys(R) would be more than happy to guide you through an individualised, safe and effective home-based program. Exercise Right also has a variety of programs to cater for a variety of needs, all prescribed by exercise professionals.
Something is better than nothing, but if we can optimise our time spent exercising and limiting our time spent being sedentary, we can enhance our health-related outcomes in many ways, and come out the other side of this health crisis both mentally and physically stronger.
If you are or do become unwell, please follow the guidance of your treating doctor.
Written by Emily Densley- Walker, Accredited Exercise Physiologist, PsychPhys®
- Department of Health. (2020). Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) [Ebook]. Retrieved from https://www.health.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/2020/03/coronavirus-covid-19-what-you-need-to-know_7.pdf
- Campbell, J., & Turner, J. (2018). Debunking the Myth of Exercise-Induced Immune Suppression: Redefining the Impact of Exercise on Immunological Health Across the Lifespan. Frontiers In Immunology, 9. doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2018.00648
- Alack, K., Pilat, C., & Krüger, K. (2019). Current knowledge and new challenges in exercise immunology. Deutsche Zeitschrift Für Sportmedizin, 70(10), 250-260. doi: 10.5960/dzsm.2019.391
- Marcos, A. (2020). Lifestyle consequences on the immune system in adolescence. Retrieved 27 March 2020, from https://digital.csic.es/handle/10261/172211
- Ellingson, L., Meyer, J., Shook, R., Dixon, P., Hand, G., & Wirth, M. et al. (2018). Changes in sedentary time are associated with changes in mental wellbeing over 1 year in young adults. Preventive Medicine Reports, 11, 274-281. doi: 10.1016/j.pmedr.2018.07.013
- Calfas, K., & Taylor, W. (1994). Effects of Physical Activity on Psychological Variables in Adolescents. Pediatric Exercise Science, 6(4), 406-423. doi: 10.1123/pes.6.4.406
- Exercise, Depression, and the Brain. (2020). Retrieved 27 March 2020, from https://www.healthline.com/health/depression/exercise#1
- (2020). Retrieved 27 March 2020, from https://www.eatmovelive.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Physical-Activity-Guidelines-Australia.pdf
- (2020). Retrieved 27 March 2020, from https://www1.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/F01F92328EDADA5BCA257BF0001E720D/$File/FS-Adults-18-64-Years.pdf