by Laura Henry
We just crossed the six-month mark for the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Over the course of the last six months, almost every human on the planet has had to adjust how they conduct their daily lives, including everything from how they work, how they acquire food and essential goods, and how they spend their free time.
Whether we want to fully admit this or not, the reality is that the repercussions from the world-wide response to COVID-19 will be with us for a while. In short, we will have to continue to stay the course, evolve with the changing circumstances, and most importantly, find a way to prioritize our own health so we can emerge from this without sacrificing our well-being.
With everything going on and all that we are being called upon to do, it’s reasonable that we would feel overwhelmed by all of the changes. And when we do feel overwhelmed, we often let the “easy” things fall by the wayside. As an endurance coach, I have watched many, many athletes let their workouts, physical activity, and goals be the casualties of this disjointed time period.
Many athletes have fallen into what I can best describe as “randomness,” a situation in which they are stuck in a cycle where they feel unmotivated, do not prioritize physical activity, and then experience high levels of frustration about their lack of progress (or sometimes their regression from where they were physically before).
I want to strongly encourage each of you reading this to be aware of where you are at, and I want to encourage each of you not to fall into this randomness, as it creates even more internal and mental turmoil than we are already experiencing.
Just as “easy” as it is to let workouts and physical activity fall by the wayside, it’s also “easy” to say that they shouldn’t be the things that we let go. Putting this into practice may seem challenging, but if one commits to it, it’s certainly worth it.
As of mid-July, 53% of adults in the United States reported that the COVID-19 Pandemic has caused their mental health to be impacted in a negative way, and that they have experienced increased worry and stress. This number is up from 32% in March 2020. Overall, one in three American adults has reported symptoms of anxiety or depression during the pandemic, which is significantly higher than the one in ten American adults who reported the same thing from January to July 2019.
These may be really scary-sounding statistics, but they are true, and they exemplify why it’s so important to engage in positive, soul-filling things that can counteract these side effects of the pandemic. Exercise has consistently been shown to ease symptoms of depression and anxiety. According to my friend and Sports Psychologist, Dr. Amanda Leibovitz, bilateral movement forces the hemispheres of the brain to communicate with each other. Simply put, any movement or activity that forces you to use both sides of your body (i.e. walking, cycling, running, hiking, swimming, etc.) will force your brain to connect with itself on a neurological level. This is one (of the many) scientific reasons why exercise helps to combat symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Science tells us that it’s true: the antidote for what ails us is often the very thing we let go of. So how do we keep physical activity as part of our lives? To start with, we can use the framework that training and physical activity provides to help create certainty and stabilization in the other areas of our lives that feel disjointed right now. We can also choose to see this as an opportunity to do something we haven’t ever done before, but something that, in the wise words of Marie Kondo, “sparks joy.” We can use this time to do something exercise or movement-related that we wouldn’t normally do if we had a major goal race on the calendar.
Scheduling a “movement session” like you would schedule any other important event in your life is one way to create this structure. As a starting point: Commit to blocking 15-30 minutes per day for some sort of movement, whether it be walking, running, cycling, hiking, swimming, playing a sport with your kids or grandkids. Treat this block of time the same way you would treat a very important Zoom call that you need to attend for work, meaning that nothing short of a major emergency can cause you to cancel it.
If you’re an athlete, chances are this: before the pandemic was declared, exercise, training, and workouts were things that brought you joy and were things that you considered important aspects of your life. While the world-wide response to the pandemic might have generated significant changes, it didn’t (and shouldn’t) cause you to give up things that are, in fact, important to you and that bring you joy.
So, don’t eliminate the things that are important in your life, such as a workout or physical activity. Don’t fall into randomness. While it might feel easy to say something along the lines of, “Oh, I’ll just come back next year in 2021,” the truth is that the longer you delay prioritizing yourself and your health and wellness, the harder it will be to start back up again, and your forecasted comeback may not look like you imagine it.
You are absolutely worth prioritizing, so make it your goal this week to make you your top
priority so you can feel good and be more effective in all aspects of your life.
1."The Implications of COVID-19 for Mental Health and ...." 21 Aug. 2020, https://www.kff.org/coronavirus-covid-19/issue-brief/the-implications-of-covid-19-for-mental-health-and-substance-use/. Accessed 7 Sep. 2020.
2. "Depression and anxiety: Exercise eases symptoms - Mayo Clinic." 27 Sep. 2017, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/in-depth/depression-and-exercise/art-20046495. Accessed 7 Sep. 2020.