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How getting moving can help beat coronavirus stress

18 May 2020

For many people, high stress levels are an inevitable outcome of the coronavirus crisis.

But research shows that regular heart-rate-increasing physical activity can improve mental well-being. Find out why and read our 5 quick tips on how to get started with your exercise routine.

Understanding the stress response

To understand how doing something physical can affect your mental wellbeing, first you need to understand the stress response. This is a natural response to a situation that you find challenging or threatening. It is a vital function that enables quick reactions in response to challenges.

So why is stress useful?

During stress, the hormones adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol are released from the adrenal glands into the blood circulation. These increase alertness and endurance and lower your pain threshold. The immune system is temporarily strengthened under stress because cortisol is protective and anti-inflammatory. You also have access to extra energy to be able to perform better for a short period of time. Put simply, the body is set to survive. Thanks to stress response, humans have been able to survive as a species.

But prolonged stress can damage your health

After a period of challenge or stress, your body and mind need to recover. Prolonged exposure to cortisol and stress without recovery depletes the body's need for variation between activity and rest, and can be associated with many lifestyle-related illnesses. The risk of insomnia, anxiety and depression increase, while prolonged stress can lead to fatigue.

Can physical activity treat stress?

Yes. Research shows that the body becomes better at handling stress hormones following physical activity such as cardio training. It shows that exercise counteracts stress both while you are active and also for a period of time afterwards. It also means you will be able to recover faster and future challenging situations will not be as hard.

*“You just need to raise your heart rate with physical activity for 50 minutes three times a week to get positive changes in the brain and nervous system." Reviewed by: Dr Hemal Shah, Livi

Plus, physical activity has lot of other benefits

  1. The ability to concentrate increases
  2. Memory is strengthened
  3. Creativity improves
  4. The immune system is strengthened
  5. The impact of anxiety is reduced

5 steps to starting a regular exercise routine

  1. Start slowly – 10 minutes lighter exercise each day is better than no exercise at all. Increase time, distance and intensity gradually.
  2. Choose exercise that’s fun – it can motivate you to keep going. Try different types of exercise because they have different health benefits.
  3. Keep a training diary – it shows your development and motivates continuity.
  4. Keep your workouts regular – and make sure they increase your heart rate! Research recommends 50 minutes, three times a week. The more intense the workout the better, but start at your own level and increase over time.
  5. Be patient and stick with it. Positive changes can be noticed immediately, but the long-term benefits require several months of regular training.

Get cortisol-smart

The more activity you do, the better the body gets at managing cortisol and cortisol levels go down faster when the activity is over. When other stressful situations arise, the impact from cortisol on your body won’t be as great. Exercising makes the most of the body's incredible ability to adapt – the more you do it, the better you will adapt to life’s challenges.

Reviewed by: Dr Hemal Shah, Lead GP, Livi

Whenever you need a GP, you can usually get an appointment with a Livi GP in minutes.

Last updated:
18 May 2020

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