Social distancing, job losses, future insecurity, health risks these are all things that cause stress in humans and these are all things many of us are dealing with in the current environment of the Covid-19 pandemic. You’ve probably seen lots of information about taking care of mental health in the media; some of the information is useful and some of it just feels like generic white noise. 

I’m not about to give you a list of how to take care of your mental health because I am not a mental health counselor, but I can help clarify some of the benefits and detriments of exercise and stress. To do this I’m going to reference a blog I published last year about exercise and stress: https://ascent.fit/2019/exercise-to-improve-stress-tolerance/

Here are the key takeaways that feel relevant to right now.

  • Listen to your body – not your Instagram feed. During times of stress, it is completely normal for your body to want to hunker down and conserve energy. It is okay to not want to participate in fitness challenges or post sweaty selfies after doing a killer chipper. Respect your body’s need to rest!
  • But, I thought exercise was supposed to help with my stress? Yes, our bodies are made to move and most people find the movement to be relaxing and therapeutic. These benefits usually come when doing low-intensity workouts that are enjoyable. Low-intensity steady-state workouts can be just about any activity including movnat, yoga, walking, jogging, biking, and gardening. Try adding 30min of low-intensity exercise to your day and see how it makes you feel.
  • Intense is not always best! A common misconception is that exercise has to be intense to be effective. In fact, High-intensity interval training (HIIT) increases cortisol. There are a lot of benefits to HIIT training including building up stress tolerance. But in times of high stress, high-intensity training can be counter-productive. If you are experiencing high daily stress or short periods of sleep then the last thing you need is a HIIT workout to add to the stress on your body.

Finally, we want you to know that Ascent is here for you no matter what level of exercise you need right now. We think ultimately movement is an important tool to soothe the body, to spark joy, to build community, and to empower individuals with physical autonomy. Ascent’s virtual workouts are as always scaled to meet the various needs of our members, and right now we are giving some extra attention to our warm-ups, breathing and connection. Some people may be ready for interval training and others may find it appropriate to rest every other set. We support folks listening and connecting to their bodies. 

What other questions do you have about exercise and mental health?