After weeks of being in quarantine, many people may be struggling with chronic stress and mental health issues, but a new study has found that exercise may be able to help. Just six weeks of chronic stress can lead to depression, even in people who have never experienced depressive symptoms before.
As we have passed the six-week point of the pandemic in the United States, many may be experiencing depression symptoms, so it’s important to understand lifestyle changes that may be able to curb any mental health problems.
The abrupt halt to life as we know it has caused many people to feel as though they have lost their place in this world. This can add extra tension to daily life, making us more reactive to minor events, and can also play a major role in forecasting our future brain health.
Under normal circumstances, people report having a 50 percent chance of having a stressful day. With the COVID-19 stay at home orders, experts believe this number is much higher.
Equally Effective as Drugs
Researchers at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario have found that exercise can play an important role on stressful days. A brisk 30-minute walk three times a week is enough to reduce psychological distress and decrease symptoms of depression and anxiety. When compared to antidepressant drugs, exercise was found to be equally effective at treating stress-induced mental illness without the potential side effects such as fatigue, nausea, or loss of appetite.
It all starts in the brain stem with the activation of the hypothalamus and its two parallel axes through exercise. These are called the SAM axis, which is the sympathetic adrenal medullary, and the HPA axis, which is the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal.
The SAM axis works by causing a rush of adrenaline into the blood, initiating the “flight or fight, response to unleash the body’s maximum power. The HPA axis, on the other hand, works more gradually. It induces a flood of hormones that leads to the release of cortisol into the blood, which in turn frees stored sugars from the liver and fat cells. This provides the body with the much-needed energy it needs to withstand the stressors over a longer period.
Even under the best circumstances, studies show that nearly half of young adults and 70 percent of older adults find it difficult to get enough physical activity. However, during this time of chronic stress, it is more important than ever to get enough daily exercise to help prevent the risk of mental health issues.
If you are experiencing a dip in mood or struggling to find the motivation to do anything, you are not alone. Many people are finding it hard to get motivated while in quarantine, but daily exercise is a must if you want to keep any depressive symptoms as bay.