Mental health tips during lockdown: How to cope with no access to sports or gyms – experts

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With no access to sports or gyms during the lockdown, many people may be worried not just about their physical health but also their mental wellbeing. The government announced that England would be placed under lockdown from November 5, with the new restrictions to last for at least four weeks. During that time, non-elite sport will be halted, with gym and leisure facilities also ordered to close.

Three health and fitness professionals have spoken to Express.co.uk about the effects this could have on those who regularly reap the mental benefits of such activities.

And they have also offered some tips and advice for getting through the next four weeks.

How will no sports or gyms affect people’s mental health?

IFBB Pro Bodybuilder and fitness coach Greg Doucette: “If you are an avid gym-goer you will already know that the gym is not just for your body but it’s a great place to recalibrate and burn off stress so to say.

“A significant amount of people like to take out their stresses during intense or sustained physical activity in the gym. As the world enters another period of lockdown we are seeing every country announce what is and what isn’t essential.

“I personally think gyms are essential and you will come to realise over time this is a majority opinion. Gyms provide great opportunities to relieve stress and work off some of those anxieties that everybody will be feeling.

“As they close, I fear a quiet mental health crisis looming as people isolate themselves more and don’t know how to relive some of those cortisol (stress hormone) levels. The longer they stay in you there more of an issue it becomes.”

Daniel Carpenter from Common Purpose Club: “The impact of this second lockdown on the mental health and wellbeing of the general population is a subject which is difficult to ignore.

“The first lockdown increased rates of depression and anxiety within the UK well above normal rates. Health and financial worries, general uncertainty, routine disruption and limited social contact will all contribute to this problem.

“That was all the case in the first lockdown, but this time round we are entering the winter months, with shorter daylight hours, grey skies and temperature drops added into the mix.

“Of the many benefits regular exercise provides, it’s positive impacts on mental health has never been more important! The inability to go to the gym and play sports with friends is an unfortunate result of the most recent lockdown rules. Those who rely on these activities for maintenance of their mental wellbeing will no doubt be negatively impacted if over the next month.

“In a recent press conference, Boris Johnson, responded to a question on this very subject by saying that these rules are a ‘necessary part of a package of measures put in place to reduce the R rate’. Before this he has also admitted that ‘We know the cost of these restrictions, the damage they do, the impact on jobs, and on livelihoods, and on people’s mental health’.”

David Osgathorp from Pro Sport Lab: “The decrease in access to activity will undoubtedly see an increase in incidence of poor mental health.

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“If you regularly exercise then training is a big part of who you are and what you do, so you lose part of your identity. Going to a gym or sports club may also form the main part of your social life, without it you may feel extremely isolated.

“We all need an escape, from work life, home life or other stressful situations and without it our problems are magnified. Regular exercise can boost your mood if you have depression.

“It can improve your confidence, allow you to improve your sleep and enable you to better deal with stress and anxiety. Exercise is a wonder drug for managing depression, improving your mood, your memory, your sleep and enhancing overall well-being.”

What advice would give people during the lockdown?

Doucette: “The best thing you can do is to still maintain your fitness through outdoor activities. Running, working out in public places is a great way to get out and use up some of the energy you are storing.

“It also helps clear the mind seeing a change of scene. One other benefit of working outside is you could involve another friend or person as long as you socially distance based on where you are and what level of lockdown you are in.

“Also it’s good to look at online programmes and online group activities where you are part of a group exercising as it can help feeling part of a team. Social media for all its downsides is also great for connecting with other like-minded people who enjoy fitness.

“It’s not a bad idea to keep talking to people and keeping a daily amount of fitness planned in your life.”

Carpenter: “Well as personal trainers, we understand the impact this is having on our client’s health and wellbeing! We’ve been busy trying to figure out how we can properly navigate this lockdown period.

“Here’s the advice we’ve been giving: Don’t just stop! – It’s tempting to simply give up in the face of these new restrictions, not engage in any form of activity with the assumption that there’s just no point. We highly recommend you don’t fall into this trap! In the words of Bear Grylls… improvise, adapt, overcome!

“Create your new routine – find the times during the week you could dedicate to exercise (you probably have more time spare during lockdown). Make these time slots regular and explicit, then stick to them.

“Identify a workout space at home – the first thing to do when building a home gym is identifying a space. We explain in this article https://commonpurposeclub.co.uk/journal/training-from-home-set-up-and-equipment/

“Create a minimalist workout program – you can seek professional help such as online coaches or personal trainers to do this for you, or use the internet to search for workout routines which are simple to follow and don’t need a load of equipment.

“Enjoy the great outdoors – we are still allowed to head outside, so make the most of it, jogs and bike rides (especially in the daylight) will do your mental wellbeing a world of good!

“Get others involved – join online exercise classes or create your own with friends and family. This will increase your social interaction and also keep you accountable.”

Osgathorp: “Keep a schedule. If you train three times per week then stick to those appointments even if it is in your front room.

“Get organised. Create a weekly plan that can include resistance exercises, cardio training and stretching. Don’t ‘try to find the time’ – make the time and stick to it.

“Try something new. Find some mobility exercises that will ease those aching joints, improve your posture and allow your body to move in ways you’d forgotten it could!

“Get outside, even on a cold day your body will still benefit from fresh air and natural light to reset your natural circadian rhythm. Find a friend that is also committed to push you on, or sign up to an app or live class for some extra accountability.

“Get your workout clothes ready the night before. Morning exercise has endless benefits and the act of putting your training clothes on first thing in the morning psychologically prepares you to get going.”

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