The pandemic has changed society and sport as well, be it amateur or professional sports. Globally, almost all activity stopped, with most competitions suspended or canceled - including the Olympic Games -, posing significant challenges to the sporting world.
All national and international health authorities, such as the Order of Psychologists or the World Health Organization (WHO) have called for the need to find strategies to maintain daily physical activity, despite the confinement and physical distance that everyone must maintain. Exercise is essential to managing psychological health for athletes and non-athletes throughout their lives. It is vital to fight anxiety and depression inherent in periods of crisis and uncertainty like the one we are experiencing.
According to WHO data, one in four adults does not practice enough physical exercise, as it happens with four out of five adolescents. Globally, it is estimated that this will cost $54 billion in direct health care and another $14 billion in lost productivity, says an official document. Therefore, the WHO warned that regular physical activity is essential for the prevention and control of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer. It also reduces symptoms of depression and anxiety, reducing cognitive decline and improving memory and brain health.
Exercise: cognitive functions and regulation of emotions
Studies concerned with sports functions, besides pointing to benefits around maintaining a healthy weight, gaining muscle mass, or losing fat, also associate physical exercise with cognitive functions and emotional regulation. We know that several hormones contribute decisively to this regulation during and after physical activity. Serotonin, known as the "wellness hormone", helps regulate sleep and is linked to mood swings and depression. On the other hand, dopamine is a substance linked to levels of motivation, insofar as its deficit generates demotivation to act, causing a lack of courage, the desire to perform various tasks directly influencing mood, attention, and learning.
Experts believe that, because it is necessary to be motivated to stay active, it is essential that each person derives pleasure from the physical activity they choose to practice, increasing their perception of their competences, and that each person gets support from family members, peers, and professionals through interpersonal relationships established in each context.
The number of people doing sports has increased
Several studies carried out in 2020, namely a survey of five universities, carried out in partnership with the Portuguese Institute for Sports and Youth, confirmed an increase in the number of individuals practicing physical exercise and the time dedicated to it during the pandemic period. The population has felt like never before the importance of exercise in battling the problematic situation experienced worldwide.
Exercise outdoors, at home, and online
The quarantine and the several periods of confinement brought with it the exercise at home and online trends. Even after returning to normalcy, these options remain valid and may tend to increase. Many people, under normal conditions, have neither the time nor the energy to go to the gym or outdoors. Exercising at home removes the burden of commuting to their local gym, so it's convenient. The exercise experience at home may very well grow in the future as an essential prevention strategy for physical and mental health.
Although it is necessary to fight a sedentary lifestyle, the average sportsman must do something he likes or, at least, something he adapts well to. And that's because it's not so important to be the one who sweats the most, but who is the most regular. In terms of exercise, it has been proven that 30 to 40 minutes of vigorous walking, every day, is the basis to escape a sedentary lifestyle and to get that fat tissue to move. For those who cannot do this at this stage, the essential thing is to commit to something that is minimally pleasant but with discipline.
No exercise is done without effort, for those who are not used to it. But the benefits, in terms of physical and psychological well being, are invaluable. Who has never been without energy and spirit and, after a simple walk, gained the energy and mental clarity needed? Physical hygiene is fundamental to mental hygiene. And don't forget: get moving, but have fun!