With the drastic changes to our lives due to COVID-19, we can still stay active. Exercise during this challenging time can help improve everyone's emotional well-being and physical health.
Lifelong Learning in Clinical Excellence | March 24, 2020 | 1 min read
By Erica Leonard, MD, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
Despite the ongoing pandemic, spring is here and beckons us outside to enjoy the welcoming weather. A recent article in The Washington Post by health psychologist Kelly McGonigal shared evidence of the power exercise to improve our mood and sense of connection to others, despite our current practice of social distancing.
Exercise can help us reduce anxiety during the pandemic
The “runner’s high” frequently attributed to the release of endorphins, has been linked to another neurotransmitter, which fosters contentment: endocannabinoids. Research in mice demonstrated that endocannabinoids released during exercise reduced both anxiety and the sensation of pain following activity. Endocannabinoids also increase the joy we have from being around others. A 2018 study showed that individuals had more positive interactions with family and friends on days that they exercised.
Low levels of dopamine are seen in those with depression and substance abuse, and we all lose dopamine receptors as we age. Regular exercise has been shown to increase circulating levels of dopamine and the availability of dopamine receptors. The dopaminergic reward system for active older adults is comparable to that of cohorts who are decades younger.
Exercise can help us be courageous
These examples shed light on how activity benefits our brains at the neurotransmitter level. Check out the full article to see additional insights from McGonigal on how at a more macro level, exercise can improve our courage, our sense of belonging and trust with others, and bolster our confidence.
Exercise can help us improve our emotional well-being through the pandemic
With the drastic changes to the lives of both clinicians and patients as we all endeavor to help flatten the COVID-19 transmission curve, we can still stay active. Exercise during this challenging time can help improve everyone’s emotional well-being. While we cannot play on sports teams or work out in gyms right now, there are many ways to exercise that allow for social distancing. A few ideas for ourselves and our patients are running or biking outside or doing yoga at home. Despite the challenging times, we can still move our bodies and try to enjoy the warmer weather as much as possible.