Healthy body for a healthy mind – taking care of your mental health in self isolation

Keeping up physical activity is even more important for improving and maintaining mental health during COVID 19 restrictions, says Dr Megan Teychenne.

Physical activity is well known as a key risk factor for the prevention and management of mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.

Dr Megan Teychenne, a NHMRC Emerging Leadership Fellow at IPAN, recently found that physical activity, even in low doses, was associated with a lower risk of mental illness.

“While current physical activity guidelines recommend a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise and two sessions of muscle strengthening exercises per week, our research has shown that for mental health, something is better than nothing,” she explained.

She said it was pleasing that the Australian Government had recognised the importance of exercise for health during the COVID 19 crisis.

“Even during these tough restrictions, the Government has allowed exercise as one of only four reasons we can leave the home – clearly demonstrating its value in terms of our physical and mental health,” she said.

“Mental disorders are already among the leading causes of disease and disability globally. We need to do everything we can, including building in regular physical activity to our days, to maintain mental health while we are isolated.”

With gyms and exercise classes now shut down across the country, Dr Teychenne has offered some suggestions to build some movement into your day:

  • Keep motivated by scheduling exercise time in your diary as you might do for a gym class.
  • Put on some of your favourite music – a cheerful selection can be found here) and do some simple bodyweight exercises like squats, lunges and push-ups
  • There are some great apps and free YouTube videos available to guide your home exercise. These include yoga, high-intensity interval training and dancing. Some gyms are now live-streaming sessions; some apps require a paid subscription, but some also offer a free trial period or are free during the current isolation period. Or dust off that old workout DVD and commit to doing it a few times a week.
  • If you’re able, get outside in the fresh air – kick the footy in the backyard with the kids, set up an obstacle course or exercise circuit for you all to try, or go for a ‘physically distanced’ walk around the neighbourhood early in the morning or later in the evening when fewer people are around.
  • If you can afford it, consider hiring a piece of exercise equipment (treadmill, exercise bike, cross-trainer). Starting price is usually around AUD$120 for 3 months – which works out at around $10 per week for base models. Alternatively, you could look at purchasing second hand equipment.

“Make sure your chosen activity is something that you enjoy. That way you are more likely to stick to it and achieve mental health benefits. If you generally dislike vigorous-intensity physical activity, don’t force yourself into high-intensity home exercise routines,” Dr Teychenne said.

“The most important thing is that you find time every day to move your body – even if it is just to walk up and down your driveway or a couple of laps around the block a few times a day. Regular exercise will help boost your state of mind and protect your mental wellbeing.”

If you are experiencing any mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, please reach out to one of the various national support services or see this Beyond Blue link for mental health resources during the coronavirus outbreak.

Click here for more information about Deakin IPAN’s research into physical activity and nutrition or follow us on Twitter @DeakinIPAN