Walking the Dog

Physical Activity, Mental Health, and the Lockdown

We’ve mentioned it before. During the lockdown, our instinct has been to get out and walk. We see lots of people out running. We have seen families walking together that we’ve never seen before. And a new working paper (i.e., not yet peer reviewed) offers evidence to suggest physical activity during the lockdown might be especially important for our mental health now.

Physical Activity and Mental Health in the Pandemic

This paper examines the possible effects of restrictions related to the pandemic on our activities and mental health. It’s cross sectional and the physical activity is based on self reports. What’s more, the sample is mostly white and well-educated. The sample is one of convenience, so it is not representative of the U.S. population.

Despite all these limitations, this study does provide an interesting snapshot of physical activity and mental health during the lockdown.

For folks who were active before the lockdown, physical activity went down by 32 percent. Among less active respondents, it was mostly unchanged. Sitting time went up for both groups, and so did screen time. Researchers found a clear association between reduced physical activity and worse mental health. They also found that self-isolation and quarantine had a link to more depression and anxiety than social distancing.

Getting to a Better Place

It’s hard to deny that many of us are not in a good state of mind. People are straining against restrictions that we’ve been accepting for now more than two months. Some communities are opening up. Some communities, to our great sadness, are breaking out in violent protests.

But without a doubt, getting to a better place will require getting to a better state of mental health for many of us. Among the many things that can help with that is a healthy dose of physical activity.

Click here for this working paper, here for more on it from the New York Times, and here for more on the mental health benefits of physical activity. For perspective on the mental health challenges we now face, click here and here.

Walking the Dog, photograph © Susanne Nilsson / flickr

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May 31, 2020

2 Responses to “Physical Activity, Mental Health, and the Lockdown”

  1. May 31, 2020 at 10:57 am, Mary-jo said:

    I was also curious to see, but didn’t see anything explicit, if there were any reports about quarantine weeks re: void of being outside in sunlight and/or outdoors much less frequently, contributed to downer moods, depression, lethargy, apathy. I could imagine that, regardless of exercise status, just being confined indoors, with main sources of light being screen time, may be debilitating to mental and physical health, disrupting light and dark hormone rhythms, circadian rhythms, things like that.

  2. June 01, 2020 at 1:26 pm, Brandon Miller said:

    For permanent mental health it is very important to be really mobile, and constantly. Even in nature, the generation and burning of a certain energy during the entire physical activity is laid. Therefore, moving during the quarantine period, even if it is in your yard, will be really useful. So be sure to try. For me, for example, this is not only a moral discharge, but physically I feel better every day, of course it is not a matter of setting records.