I know I have written a lot about exercise recently. Given the renewed emphasis on personal health in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, I am being asked more questions than ever by clients about the best ways to exercise.
Whilst exercise benefits our physical health, the benefits of exercise extend far beyond the physical. Due to our evolutionary history as hunters and gatherers, human brains are biologically programmed to experience happiness, meaning, and a sense of belonging from physical activity – primarily if that physical activity occurs to music, in nature, or alongside other people.1 In fact, moving in coordinated synchrony with other people, for example, when dancing, doing Pilates or Yoga, creates a greater sense of connection and wellbeing.
The many different brain chemicals, such as endocannabinoids, dopamine, and endorphins released during exercise, have been shown to reduce anxiety and depression and help alleviate the various physical and mental symptoms of multiple illnesses. These chemicals also make us more likely to trust and support each other when released in a social or group setting.
Unfortunately, many of the beneficial social and psychological effects of exercise are difficult to replicate when exercising in an online environment; that said, it is always better to be doing some exercise than no exercise.
We can all look forward to the Covid-19 restrictions lifting so that no matter your age, your fitness level, or your physical constraints, you too can experience or re-experience the joy and broader health benefits from moving your body with others. You will need to find a suitable activity to do, at the correct dose and for the right amount of time. Be careful to start slowly; pay attention to form and technique under an experienced instructor to reduce the risk of injuries. A good sweat in a gym-based Les Mills or spinning class is an option, as are Yoga, Pilates and Tai Chi classes. It was great to see more fitness classes happening outside, such as Boot Camps, running groups and outdoor Yoga; hopefully, these will all return.
In good health
Simon Coghlan MSc, BSc Physio, DipMedAc
1. McGonigal K. The Joy of Movement: How exercise helps us find happiness, hope, connection, and courage. Penguin; 2019 Dec 31.