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Why It's More Important Than Ever to Make Your Fitness a Priority in 2020

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To say that 2020 has been a weird or different kind of year would be quite the understatement. With everything this year is throwing at us, it’d be understandable if we all simply decided to lock the door behind us, hide under the covers, and hibernate while we wait for better days ahead. But here’s exactly why we shouldn’t – our health depends on it. And while it may seem like the last thing you want to do right now, exercise has a myriad of health benefits, both physical and mental, which is something we all could use an extra helping of in these fatiguing, anxiety-ridden times.

According to the Mayo Clinic, exercise aids in weight management efforts, which is especially important as our days are growing colder, shorter, as well as with the holidays around the corner (whatever they may look like for you in 2020), as this is typically a time when people tend to gain a few pounds due to rich, comfort-style foods in combination with lower physical activity levels. Exercise also promotes better sleep, and enhanced mood and energy. Again, who doesn’t need this benefit in 2020? Engaging in higher levels of physical activity can also reduce our risks or help us effectively manage conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, depression, anxiety, and certain types of cancer, to name a few.

So then, how much exercise should we be aiming for each day? According to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, key guidelines for adults are as follows: “For substantial health benefits, adults should do at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) to 300 minutes (5 hours) a week of moderate-intensity, or 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) to 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity. Preferably, aerobic activity should be spread throughout the week.” Ultimately, this could be broken down into 30-minute bouts of exercise 5 days per week. Also, make sure not to leave strength training out of your routine as, “adults should also do muscle-strengthening activities of moderate or greater intensity and that involve all major muscle groups on 2 or more days a week, as these activities provide additional health benefits.” Although activity levels will vary across populations, moderate activity can be described as walking at a brisk pace between 3-4.5 mph on a level surface, whereas vigorous activity would involve jogging or running at 5 mph or greater. Remember too that if you don’t have a full 30 minutes to devote to a workout, breaking it down further has been shown to be just as effective, for example, completing 3, 10-minute bouts of exercise throughout the day.

In the time of a global pandemic, adding an exercise routine or maintaining the one we already have may seem superfluous to some, but it can be one of the best things we do for ourselves. Because for many of us who are working from home or simply staying home more than we used to, it most likely means that we’re not moving as much either. Combine this with the idea that staying home may mean we’re snacking more often given our proximity to the kitchen, or the higher levels of boredom, fatigue, stress, and anxiety we’re currently experiencing. Thus, these changes to our dietary habits and lifestyle can lead to weight gain, which may have an effect on both our mental and physical well-being. Need another reason to add exercise to your To-do list in the midst of a pandemic? Unfortunately, along with COVID-19, flu season is nearly upon us as well. While there still needs to be more research to prove a link between exercise and immunity, some theories suggest that exercise may help our respiratory system by flushing out bacteria, or that because physical activity reduces stress hormone release in the body this action may protect against illness, as stress seems to increase our chances of getting sick. Of course, if you’re already not feeling well and are experiencing symptoms, you should rest instead.

To combat COVID fatigue, getting ourselves into a simple routine each day can go a long way. Remember, even if you only have several minutes at a time to devote to a fitness routine, use it to meditate, stretch, or plan out your day while being cognizant of fitting in a workout at some point - it’s certainly better than nothing at all. To help with the loss of social interaction many of us are experiencing at this time, find and follow along with exercise videos online, or if available in your area, take a virtual class that your gym is offering. A simple walk (whether that’s outside or through your apartment) is another great form of exercise. Keep track of your steps and challenge yourself by trying to get a few extra steps in as the week progresses. Remember that taking the smallest steps towards developing or maintaining a fitness routine count towards fighting COVID fatigue.

Whether gyms in your area opened back up months ago or you’re still staying close to home, finding ways to incorporate exercise into your day can help you improve your mood and energy levels, as well as battle COVID-19 and the flu, seasonal depression, and anxiety. Still looking for other options to fight off COVID-19 fatigue that may not be directly exercise related? UC Davis Heath has some additional suggestions. Take a look, and get moving – your physical and mental health will thank you.

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