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Don't Stop Now! Why Exercise is Still So Important

We’re entering the third month of working from home due to the coronavirus pandemic, which also means the third month of working out from home. If you’re losing your motivation to exercise on your own, you’re not alone. But with remote work predicted to last at least through the summer, it’s important to keep up the healthy exercise habits you developed early on. In this article, we share some insights on why exercise is still so important and how to fit it into your day.

Exercise enhances immunity.

While COVID-19 cases are declining in most states, health experts say we are still not out of the woods. Aside from frequent handwashing, social distancing, and wearing a face covering, you can add in another layer of protection by focusing on your immunity.

How? Eating lots of fruits and vegetables, getting enough sleep, and, you guessed it—exercising!

The American College of Sports Medicine states that each burst of whole-body dynamic cardiorespiratory exercise “instantaneously mobilizes literally billions of immune cells.” And, according to a recent WebMD.com article, Exercise Is the Immune System Booster You Need Right Now, every time we engage in exercise, even a moderate walk, our immune system gets a little stronger. Michael Smith, WebMD’s Chief Medical Editor, writes: “[The] Activity of germ-fighting immune system cells increases – these ‘natural killer cells’ are particularly adept at killing off dangerous invaders. With each workout, our immune systems also pump out natural antibodies and anti-inflammatory cytokines to help wipe out attackers. Over time, these temporary increases can permanently pump up our immune system and lower inflammation.”

While exercising can boost immunity for adults of all ages, exercising is especially beneficial for older adults who are more susceptible to infection. The good news is that, no matter your age, you don’t have to engage in vigorous exercise to reap the benefits. Scientists say that moderate-intensity physical activity has the best impact.1 So, take that walk, go for a light run, or do a yoga class.

Exercise helps your brain function better.

As we move into month three of remote working, many say they are starting to lose focus. It’s hard to stare at a screen hour after hour and keep your mind from wandering. And then, when you do get a break from video calls, you may lack the energy to start a new task.

Here, too, exercise can help. A Harvard Medical School article states that “parts of the brain that control thinking and memory—the prefrontal cortex and medial temporal cortex—have greater volume in people who exercise versus people who don’t.” Dr. Scott McGinnis, a neurologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School neurology instructor, states that “engaging in a program of regular exercise of moderate intensity over six months or a year is associated with an increase in the volume of selected brain regions.”2

But really any form of exercise can have mind-clearing benefits. Just taking a 15-minute break to walk up and down your street can give you a fresh outlook when you return to your desk. Part of it might be the fresh air, but scientists say the increased blood flow brings more energy and oxygen to the brain so it simply performs better.3

Exercise boosts your mood.

Engaging in daily physical activity can make a huge difference in how we weather the mental health challenges brought on by the pandemic.

The link between exercise and mood-boosting endorphins is well-documented. Experts claim that the mental health benefits derived from exercise are as effective as medication or psychotherapy. A good workout reduces stress, lessens symptoms of anxiety, increases self-confidence, and wards off depression. It can even help you sleep better—and we all know how a bad night’s sleep can ruin a day.

Need some more motivation? Check out these tips to fit more exercise into your day.

During the workday:

  • Take micro-breaks. Do a few wall-sits, 10 push-ups, 50 jumping jacks— anything to increase blood flow.
  • Video calls are tethering us to our desks a bit more than normal, but if you can, dial in occasionally to a meeting and walk around while you talk.
  • Take mandatory stretch breaks. Never go from one meeting to another without standing up to stretch. Just that one minute can clear your mind.
  • Engage your co-workers in a virtual steps challenge. We’re all looking for ways to connect, and this could spur some much-needed camaraderie after months of isolation.
  • Schedule workouts like meetings. It’s especially powerful if managers can do this.

When work is done:

  • After folding laundry, don’t put it in a basket. Instead, intentionally make several trips with stacks of laundry in your arms and watch the steps add up.
  • Between episodes of the show you’re bingeing, get up and take a walk around your house or apartment.
  • Take advantage of the many fitness apps that allow you to choose the workout level that’s right for you.
  • Know that it’s possible to get a great workout with no equipment at all – just your own body weight. Think squats, lunges, using stairs as a modified step workout, push-ups, sit-ups, and planks.
  • Banish the belief that you need to work out for an hour at a time to get results. Short bursts of exercise over the course of a day are just as effective.

We’re all looking forward to the day when we can get back to the gym, the cycling studio, or the 5Ks that used to keep us motivated. Until then, know that whatever exercise you do engage in will have tangible benefits for your productivity and focus, your mood, and even your ability to stay healthy during a pandemic.

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