The best time ever to go to the gym?

13 July 2020 -

Person doing home yoga workoutHere’s the truth about the connection between physical exercise and mental health and performance at work…

Emily Hill

After more than 100 days of lockdown you can finally get a haircut, drink a pint at a pub and fly away on holiday – and from 25 July gyms will reopen. This is important because multiple studies have shown the positive impact taking regular exercise has on your mental health.

A poll by YouGov revealed that 74% of Britons are exercising more often during the lockdown, the majority (55%) of which consists of popping out for a walk. This is encouraging but, as managers of people, we should not neglect the potential mental health impact that a focus on exercise may very well alleviate.

“There has been research on the value of exercise in the treatment of depression since the early 20th century and there is a substantial body of evidence that it helps,” explains Dr Paul McLaren, general adult psychiatrist at the Priory Hospital Hayes Grove. “We don’t know why it works but it does… Most studies have focussed on aerobic exercise but there is evidence that resistance exercise with weights can be as effective.”

Exercise doesn’t necessarily need to be strenuous. Relaxation, postural and meditation-based exercises – such as yoga and pilates – have been shown to help with mood and anxiety. Dr McLaren explains: “What matters most is frequency. Find something that stimulates you enough and is feasible for you to do regularly and consistently, at least three times a week. When you’re feeling better, don’t drop it. Keep it in your routine as it will help you buffer stress and keep you well.”

It is hard to overstate the benefits of exercise, according to Dr Earim Chaudry, medical director of leading men’s wellness platform Manual. “Regular exercise may help prevent the development of mental health problems like depression, and may improve the quality of life of people who are managing mental health problems day-to-day,” he explains. It is also vital for those who are older as it has been “proven to increase life expectancy,” he adds. “Studies show that there is approximately a 20-30% lower risk of depression and dementia for adults participating in daily physical activity.”

Dr Kianoush Missaghi, training specialist at Freeletics, believes that lockdown has been good for the exercise regimes of many of us. “People have been more focused on their mental health during the pandemic, which is a great thing at any time, but especially important when dealing with a huge global crisis where there were not a lot of options to get away from the situation or oneself,” he says. “For a lot of people, fitness really helped them stay focused, blow off some steam and do something with their body during this time. It just goes to show that fitness really can be such a positive thing for us in any situation.”

For more ways you can take care of your mental health during lockdown and beyond, check out our mental health and wellbeing hub.

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