Benefits of Covid & Exercise

What evidence is there that exercise can reduce the risk of contracting covid and reduce the risk of the severity of how badly you contract it?

Whilst studies of the relationship between physical activity and COVID-19 are still evolving and being looked at constantly, several studies have shown that individuals who consistently met government guidelines for physical activity were at a reduced risk of severe outcomes from the virus like ICU admission or even death. One study conducted by Robert Sallis and published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found evidence that ‘consistently meeting physical activity guidelines was strongly associated with a reduced risk for severe COVID-19 outcomes among infected adults.’ It’s findings, alarming at best, concluded that ‘patients with COVID-19 who were consistently inactive had a greater risk of hospitalisation, admission to the ICU and death due to COVID-19 than patients who were consistently meeting physical activity guidelines. Patients who were consistently inactive also had a greater risk of hospitalisation, admission to the ICU and death due to COVID-19 than patients who were doing some physical activity.’ Following these findings, we would encourage everyone to try and incorporate at least 30 minutes of physical activity per day to reduce the risk of severe COVID-19 outcomes and even death. Particular risk factors such as ethnicity, weight and health conditions such as diabetes have shown to be strong indicators of contracting the disease. We are not, however, entirely sure how the virus will evolve. Groups may be deemed ‘higher risk’, but anyone can be affected by the virus. Exercise can protect us from many health issues, so it is logical that staying active acts as a preventative measure against severe COVID-19 cases. It is also possible that keeping healthy and active may provide your body with the resilience needed, if infected, to recover more effectively.

How many times per week should you exercise to make a significant difference to your health?

For years, national government guidelines have recommended 150 minutes of physical activity per week. This is largely based on research in the field of preventative medicine, inferring that those who undertake this amount of activity have a lower risk of obtaining major health conditions like diabetes, cancers, and coronary heart disease. However, we know that a large proportion of society fails to achieve these levels for a variety of reasons.

For many, the thought of taking time out of their day to exercise can be really daunting. Even the word ‘exercise’ can conjure up images of freezing cold P.E. lessons in the rain, cross-country running or military-style boot-camps soundtracked by a gruff voice yelling at you to drop and give them 20. Exercise can hold a lot of negative connotations for many people, and this makes it hard for them to form meaningful, long-term habits. The word exercise itself is relatively new - it was created to reflect the complex and busy lives we lead. Most of us find that our busy schedules, filled with work, childcare and housework mean we need to squeeze all of our ‘moving’ into a very short and defined period of time. Consider your PE lessons at school - they were just one hour out of your entire day, and most children only did two hours of physical activity in school per week! However from an evolutionary perspective, human beings have been designed to move for function and survival whether that was to gather water, track down food or move from one area to another. We have a great capacity to move a lot which can last for years. It's built in our DNA. When we move less, we generally see a higher risk of poor health. This process of condensing defined movement into shorter time slots was boxed and named ‘exercise’. Unfortunately, for many, the word exercise itself holds many negative thoughts.

So for those that don’t like the word exercise, simply replace it with the word ‘movement’. By moving more, you still activate the same physiological, physical, and psychological benefits that exercise can bring.

You can do this by gardening, walking, cycling, running, housework, painting and decorating or whatever makes you move more. Moving more can also create a greater sense of enjoyment and self-fulfillment as they have a dual purpose; the act of gardening can give you health benefits from doing it but also pleasure in what you have created. If you wish to measure how much you move, aim for 10,000 steps per day or simply record how long you have been doing an activity.

How do you think people’s exercise habits have changed since lockdown?

Prior to lockdown, most of us were busy juggling work, home, and social lives and not allocating enough time to exercise. Now, many people have had to adapt to exercising at home via virtual training or exercising more outside. Hopefully, they have felt the benefit from doing so and can transition some elements into their lives for the longer term. Whilst the change in routine has been frustrating for some, changes to exercise habits can be very useful and strengthen the bond between mind and body.

What types of exercise would be most beneficial?

We don’t believe that anyone exercise or activity is better than another. Each activity has its own value to the person doing it. The key is picking an exercise or activity that you enjoy the most as it will likely create a stronger bond between physical and mental aspects of your health.

When you feel happy doing something you want to do, you are more likely to make this into a meaningful habit with a greater appreciation of the value it brings to your life.

What impact will exercise have on overall health? eg mental health

For years, it was deemed that we undertake an exercise to improve only our physical health. However, more recently our understanding is that physical activity can do more for our mental wellbeing than we initially realised.

There is a significant link between the body and mind, as those that practice yoga will tell you! Our bodies release endorphins when we exercise, and these contribute to a reduction in feelings of depression and anxiety, boost our self-esteem and reduce stress.

Do you think they’ll maintain these new habits?

We know that many people have taken the time to take note of where they are in relation to where they want to be and appreciate how important their health is. We often take our health for granted but in reality, this is the only aspect of our lives we can truly really exercise (pardon the pun) control over. The effort you put in can determine how you look, feel and act. It can help you to feel better in the moment, immediately after and in the future.
As we get older, we experience the effects of aging on our bodies, something which is inevitable. Many people have become frustrated by how they lived their earlier years, wishing they had invested more in their health. Exercise at any age can therefore provide a level of inherent self-investment for a happier and healthier life for the future.

How can they do so?

We are creatures of habit by nature and if people have begun to enjoy a more active lifestyle they should ensure they continue to strengthen the bond. Inevitably, as we return back to some normality, the daily stresses of life will return and this new routine will become harder and harder to maintain. The pull of other needs and demands will take over and we may begin to make less time for what we have appreciated and enjoyed doing. The key to ensuring this does not happen is by making it your priority and scheduling it every week as a non-negotiable activity.

For those who struggle to motivate themselves, what is the best solution?

We know that motivation is the number one factor that people struggle with when they start to exercise. This is partly based on the barriers they put up in their minds before they start i.e. it will hurt, I don’t like people seeing me exercising etc. as well as setting unrealistic and unattainable goals which only continues the cycle of failure and negative thought processes.

Consider replacing the word ‘exercise’ in your head with ‘I’m going to do more'. The psychological switch will mean you put less pressure on yourself. You can internalise this process and can have fun with it. Maybe you can set a challenge to walk up and down the stairs a set number of times a day or promise yourself never to drive to the local shop when you can easily walk it.

Many people forget to take five minutes to stop and get a sense of how they feel after they have exercised. Most exercise should make you feel more alert, happy and give you more energy. Mindfulness allows you to truly notice how you feel in the moment. Having these mindful moments certainly help to break the negative barriers and helps create a stronger desire to do it again.

If you are new to exercise or in pain, you are probably doing too much and need to come back down to a level that challenges you, but doesn’t leave you feeling exhausted and unhappy.

Secondly, many people set unrealistic goals. As a society, we want results instantly and forget that we have a journey to enjoy along the way. The simpler the goal, the easier they are to achieve. For example, those that are keen to walk more could simply add ten minutes onto a walk every time. Take the longer route home, or get off the bus a stop earlier than normal! We don’t have to make huge leaps each time but small steps create mini wins along the way. You are more likely to achieve an extra ten minutes than a 5k jog and therefore strengthen a positive reinforcement to yourself. Say you go for a thirty-minute walk five times a week, adding on an extra ten minutes each time. By the end of the month, you will have spent approximately 16 hours exercising, spending time outside, and prioritising your health. This might have seemed unrealistic or daunting when starting, but breaking it down to smaller steps is achievable and powerfully rewarding.

We are also more likely to remain motivated when we help or exercise with someone else. Consider that you want to spend more time with a family or friend and use exercise as an excuse to motivate each other along the way. As social creatures, we adhere to any activity when we do it with other people. Make it fun, enjoyable and add a social element before, during, or after.

What exercise can ‘high risk’ people do if they are not allowed outside their homes?

Obviously, this will be specific to medical conditions.

Everyone has the capacity to improve their health regardless of whether people are ‘high risk’ or have multiple health problems. If you are in such a category you are no different from anyone else but are simply further along the scale to get to where you would like to be. It can feel daunting and scary starting out but given the right guidance and help you will see fantastic results.

Depending on your underlying health condition it will determine how much and what you can do. If unsure, many health professionals in the NHS and private sector have the necessary skills to work with a wide variety of people. Many of these providers now provide telephone and virtual appointments and have access to a range of tools that can help you exercise safely and effectively within your homes. Ensure they help set realistic goals, give guidance to what can and can't be done, and provide links to other organisations that can help and support you along the way.