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Exercise best way to beat anxiety and depression

Six per cent of men and 13 per cent of women suffer from anxiety
Cross country skiiing is one of the many seasonal exercises that can ease anxiety. Photo: Black Press

Ron Cain | Fitness Columnist

March 2020 – a time we shall never forget.

With COVID, we did not understand what we were dealing with. There were more questions than answers. The unknown bred anxiety and stress.

Research on the previous crisis of SARS (2003) and MERS (2015) revealed that 50 per cent of patients reported significant symptoms of depression and anxiety. Research in China during the early stages of COVID showed a considerable prevalence of anxiety and depression.

Humans are social animals, tribal. The impact of social isolation, working from home isolated from colleagues, unable to go to the rec centre or gym – all of these drastic changes had a significant impact on mental health.

Exercise is non-invasive, drug-free, affordable and even free.

Putting fitness at the top of your New Year’s resolution list is a wise decision physically, mentally, and emotionally.

There has never been a study on the impact of exercise and its effect on anxiety and depression that did not show positive results. Studies have also shown that the absence of exercise across all ages groups correlates to a higher score of depression symptoms – precisely the opposite effects of subjects engaged in controlled exercise programs.

Approximately six per cent of men and 13 per cent of women suffer from anxiety.

There is no doubt that doctor-prescribed medications with all associated side effects are frequently beneficial and necessary. The question should also be asked: why are prescription pads not filled with prescriptions for exercise?

When doctors write exercise as a prescription on a prescription pad, patients are more likely to follow the recommendation than verbal advice, especially if the prescription is very detailed and includes a referral to an exercise specialist to support the patient.

A recent study had participants train in a gym with a personal trainer for one hour, three times a week – one group at a moderate intensity level and the second group at a high-intensity level. The group that pushed harder had the most significant reduction in anxiety levels. This study is so important because all participants suffered from chronic anxiety – a minimum of 10 years.

I have heard from many people that they are exercising less and have gained weight during COVID.

Why? At the height of the restrictions, there was no prohibition on going for a walk, a hike or a run.

There was no sudden disappearance of treadmills, ellipticals or weights for people to buy.

When faced with challenges, we need to find a positive response and adapt, perhaps try something out of our comfort zone and explore something new. Negativity, crisis, stress, changes in our situation, are all filtered through our perceptions and beliefs, and we can choose to look at challenges as new opportunities for growth.

Ron Cain is owner of Sooke Mobile Personal Training.