As stay-at-home orders related to COVID-19 drag on for people around the world, it’s important to remember the advantages of a good routine that includes regular exercise. It may not only benefit your body, but also improve brain function, reduce stress and anxiety, and lower the chance of feeling depressed and lonely because of social distancing.
Coupling exercise with a regular routine and positive choices can make it easier to weather the isolation caused by social distancing. The World Health Organization advises that older people should “keep regular routines and schedules as much as possible.” WHO suggests that these routines include regular exercise. They also suggest setting a routine for doing chores and cleaning, as well as setting aside time for creative endeavors.
How Routine Exercise Impacts the Brain
Inactivity is one of the biggest enemies against good physical and cognitive health. The COVID-19 pandemic, and the subsequent stay-at-home orders, make the issue of even higher importance. The stress and anxiety caused by social distancing can impact cognitive function.
Studies have shown routine exercise provides great benefits under the even the most normal of circumstances. The National Council of Aging notes that for older adults worried about injuring themselves, studies have shown that the risk of exercising at home is no greater than it is in a group setting. They recommend 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week. Most people choose walking, but it also can include dancing and stair climbing.
Exercise offers many physical benefits, including a reduction in the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Physical activity also can lead to lower blood pressure and healthy weight loss.
Research now shows the benefits of exercise for the brain, as well. The Harvard Medical School reported that a recent study found aerobic exercise increases the size of the hippocampus, the area of the brain involved with verbal memory and learning. Put another way, “Exercise changes the brain in ways that protect memory and thinking skills.”
Exercise improves brain function in both direct and indirect ways. Exercise reduces insulin resistance, inflammation and stimulate release of chemicals in the brain that impact the health of brain cells. These chemicals also impact growth of new blood vessels in the brain, and the abundance and survival of new brain cells.
More indirectly, exercise helps the brain by reducing stress and anxiety and promoting better sleep, factors that have an impact on adults who want to better manage mild cognitive impairment.
Other Good Routines During COVID-19
In addition to exercise, good cognitive health also benefits from positive routines. Such routines can help combat feelings of loneliness and depression, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC offers advice for people of all ages to combat isolation during the pandemic, but offer an entire section on the potential mental health issues adults may experience. They note that some can present themselves as physical symptoms, including headaches and stomach aches.
As mentioned by WHO, any daily schedule for older people should include exercise, some type of creative outlet (such as painting, singing or listening to music), and handling the chores that come up every day. Other aspects of your routine should include:
- Go outside at least a few minutes each day, especially in the morning.
- Maintain a regular sleep schedule
- Eat healthy, well-balanced meals
- Take time each day for an activity that you enjoy
- Watch video, TV shows and movies that make you laugh
- Talking to loved ones and friends who are uplifting
- Take breaks from media coverage of the pandemic, especially in the hour or two before bedtime
- When feelings of worry or anxiety become overwhelming, simply go outside and take a short walk