Lower Stress by Moving More

Most people recognize the benefits of exercise for your physical health; however, many studies have confirmed that exercise seems to be beneficial for your mental health as well. Last year, researchers at Harvard published an article in Depression and Anxiety that seems to indicate that exercise can serve as a buffer for depression, even for people born with a predisposition for the illness.

Recently, researchers from Iowa State University, Trinity College Dublin, and other institutions decided to look at how people were faring during the early April shelter-in-place mandates. While their results have not yet been peer-reviewed, they have been published at Cambridge Open Engage.

About 3,000 healthy non-smoking men and women between 18 and mid-80s were assessed via questionnaires. They were asked how often they exercised and how much time they spent sitting. Researchers compared participants’ pre-pandemic estimates to their current states in April 2020.  They were also asked about the conditions of their quarantine. Were they alone or with others? Did they go outside while adhering local public health restrictions and social distancing?

While the findings are limited, the study suggests that maintaining and ideally increasing our current levels of activities is an effective way to manage stress.  These are particularly stressful times. As Jacob Meyer, an Assistant Professor of Kinesiology at Iowa State and the study’s lead author, points out, “Exercise is hardly going to fix everything. But it can be on thing we have control over. We can get up and move.”

The Harvard study indicated that as little as three hours a week can help your mental health and it doesn’t matter whether you walk, run, or do the elliptical. Just become more active in the way you prefer. Many popular workout classes and programs have been moved online and have offered free or reduced costs during the pandemic.  The NIH Recreation and Wellness is offering many workout classes virtually.

At OITE, we have been offering weekly wellness challenges. In early April, these researchers would be pleased to hear that our challenge was: Get up and move! It is now mid-June and our weekly wellness challenge is: Uplug! Between Zoom meetings, reading and writing, online classes for yourself or the kids, and connecting virtually with friends and family, the pandemic has made it difficult to get away from our screens and sitting. We hope you are continuing to find ways to incorporate self-care into your new daily routines. Unplugging and becoming more active have both been shown to improve focus and memory, mental health, physical health, and even quality of sleep. Let us know how you are taking care of yourself; you can participate in the OITE Wellness Challenge –

  • by Twitter – be sure to tag OITE (@NIH_OITE) and use the hashtag #OITEWellnessChallenge – or
  • by email to: OITE-Wellness@nih.gov

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