Exercise is a powerful resilience-building practice

Last month I wrote about the health challenges and opportunities created by our lockdown situation. Many people began lockdown with high hopes of starting a new home exercise regime. At the beginning of level 4 it appeared that a lot of people would have time on their hands without their commute, their usual workload and their interests outside the house.

But new habits can be challenging to create. The people who did well with their lockdown exercise tended to be people who already had an established way of exercising from home, such as regular walks or a Les Mills On Demand online exercise routine. Even if a habit has lapsed it’s much easier to resurrect an old routine than create one from scratch. For many people, lockdown has been a period of great uncertainty and stress both personally and professionally. Difficult conditions for laying down new patterns of behaviour. 

Lockdown restrictions might be lifting but most people have new circumstances to learn to live with and the expectation of further changes. To a large degree we can’t control what happens to us but we can take proactive steps to improve our resilience and ability to adapt to change.

Exercise is a powerful resilience-building practice. Physical activity increases blood flow to the whole body, including the brain. This means that oxygen and nutrients can get to where they need to be. When your brain is working properly you have better cognitive function, stress management skills and emotional stamina.

In addition to this, exercise positively influences the production and release of hormones, your body’s signaling systems. When you’re under stress it’s particularly important that you’re effectively releasing the four happy hormones - endorphins (the euphoria hormones), serotonin (the security hormones), dopamine (the motivation hormones) and oxytocin (the bonding hormones). Exercise can also help you process stress hormones better.

The best type of movement is the one you enjoy. If you’re feeling flat in body or spirit you might find that a low or moderate intensity option is a good place to start. High intensity training is the most efficient way to burn calories but exercise is a stress on the body and in some cases it can be a negative stress rather than a positive one.

It can be difficult to re-enter the gym after a break. Most people have enjoyed extra treats over the lockdown period and aren’t feeling their best physical selves. Just remember that everyone’s in the same boat and everyone has the potential to benefit from getting moving again.

ExerciseNZ has worked closely with the Ministry of Health to create a Covid-compliant environment for gym users. This is a great time to come together (at an appropriate distance) with a group of health-minded people in the community. We look forward to welcoming you back as we all enter this new era together.

By: , Claire Bellingham of Les Mills Takapuna.

Issue 109 May 2020