LOCKDOWN: ONE YEAR ON
On March 16th 2020, the Prime Minister announced that everyone must stop “non-essential travel and contact,” with lockdown measures legally coming into force just 10 days later. Since then we have experienced assorted degrees of freedom, and had to adapt our lifestyles, activity and mindsets accordingly. As we continue to navigate these ever-changing ‘unprecedented times,’ we should reflect on the ways these restrictions have impacted both our physical and mental wellbeing, and how we can make the most of out of these insights moving forward. So, what have learnt from the past year?
Lockdown & Physical Activity
Although lockdown has varied in its severity throughout the last year, it will come as no surprise that limiting travel and unnecessary outdoor activity has had huge implications for people’s work, travel and recreation, as well as on the subsequent levels of physical activity that follow. A recent review by Stockwell and colleagues found that, irrespective of the subpopulation or methodology used, our physical activity levels have decreased during the pandemic whilst our sedentary time has increased.
It’s likely that, perhaps in part due to the ‘exercise’ narrative pushed by the media, being confined to our homes appeared to offer far fewer opportunities for activity than our previous ‘normal’ lives. Particularly if you are used to an active commute or partaking in leisure-time activity, and now find yourself stuck behind a computer all day working from home, you may have noticed the necessity for movement has been greatly reduced. As the lines between work and home life have blurred, scheduling in breaks and time for activity requires a much more conscious effort.
The lockdown period, and our consequential drop in activity, has highlighted that many people rely on traditional exercise and facilities to get moving and lack an awareness of the benefits of simple, accessible, everyday movement. By shifting the focus away from traditional, structured exercise and taking a multi-dimensional view of activity, the possibilities are in fact endless; be that putting on your favourite song and dancing in the kitchen, getting some gardening or housework done, or wandering around the house when taking a work call. Ultimately, we should be encouraging people to get moving in any way that works for them, demonstrating the relative ease by which we can adapt our activity to the current situation.
Lockdown & Mental Health
Throughout the pandemic, the prevalence of anxiety, depression and stress-related disorders have significantly increased. In fact, the mental health charity MIND conducted a survey that highlighted 60% of all adults felt their mental health had worsened during the initial period of lockdown restrictions, demonstrating the vast impact this has had across all demographics. Notably, individuals with chronic illnesses showed higher levels of poor mental health which, when considered in conjunction with the negative association between physical and mental health, raises further concerns.
Emerging evidence can help us to understand the causes of the concurrent mental health epidemic; social isolation, job and financial losses, housing insecurity, loss of familiar coping mechanisms and a fear of exposure that comes from working in front-line services are all being cited as primary reasons for this. Acknowledgement of such issues emphasises the value of appropriate mental health funding and investment, as a failure to do so will undoubtedly result in a far greater human and economic cost in the future.
Although there are many resources available online to assist those struggling with their mental health, we would like to briefly highlight the hugely beneficial impact physical activity can have on one’s mental wellbeing. This link has been well-established within the scientific literature, and the support for it is ever-expanding. As more and more people recognise that activity is multifaceted, comprising everything from sitting less, to light intensity activity and the more traditional moderate or vigorous movements, the more accessible physical activity becomes. Particularly at this present moment in time when many people feel fatigued and unmotivated, focussing on simply moving more will elicit both physical and mental benefits!
Long Covid & Hospitalisations
Engaging in physical activity also remains a key component of the rehabilitation process for individuals recovering from Covid-19 and, with the information gained over the past year, a theoretical ‘return to exercise’ model has been created. The authors, Tumi & Ahmed, believe that such guidelines for non-athletes will help to prevent further physical deconditioning and reduce disability.
Whilst activity can evidently be a useful resource in the recovery of Covid-19, novel research also suggests that it can act as a preventative measure for severe symptoms and hospitalisation. Although the research is currently in its infancy, preliminary findings propose that engaging in physical activity is associated with lower odds of Covid-19 hospitalisations in adults over 50. The authors propose that this protective effect occurs as a result of increased muscular strength. Evidently, there is still much more to learn about the interaction between long covid, physical activity and its varying effects on prevention and rehabilitation, but there is no clinical evidence to suggest any negative associations.
Ultimately, the past year has required all of us to adapt to a whole new way of life in a relatively short period of time. Whilst we hope to be coming out the other side, the lessons we have learnt from our lockdown experience could, and should, be carried forward as we return to normal. Crucially, the resilience of the population, and our ability to modify our behaviours to overcome the varied restrictions and barriers presented to us, provide us with an skillset invaluable moving forward.
The KiActiv® Team