For many people, one of the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic is a dramatic decrease in physical activity that, over time, can become a pattern fraught with negative health implications.
But with warmer weather allowing for more outside activity and safe and effective vaccines helping to decrease COVID-19 cases, a renewed focus on movement can bring a wealth of health benefits, according to Siatta Dunbar, a doctor of osteopathic medicine who specializes in family medicine in Vancouver, Washington.
“Since the pandemic began, many of us have become more sedentary,” says Dr. Dunbar. “We used to get passive motion by going to the office, the grocery store, or maybe the community center or the gym. And then all of that stopped. So, throughout the pandemic, we had to become very intentional with our motion.”
This lack of passive motion, as well as a lack of social connection created by the pandemic, has definitely affected older adults the most. A recent study by the University of Michigan showed that 40% of adults 65 and older have reported being less physically active during the pandemic.
“As humans, we are intended to move,” says Dr. Dunbar. “Whether you walk, bike, or roll — any motion counts.”
One powerful way to get back on track physically is to create social connections through groups to motivate your fitness journey.
“Working out and doing activities with a group of friends has many health benefits,” says Dr. Dunbar. “These include helping you stick to a routine, creating fun social connections, motivating you to push yourself, and providing emotional support to keep you moving.”
Motivation to get the exercise we need
Research shows that people who participate in group fitness classes report less stress than those who exercise alone, so group exercise can be very motivating. When you exercise with other people, you feel a sense of camaraderie. You can cheer each other on, and you look forward to it — so it helps you stick to a routine.
People who work out in a social atmosphere can also experience more physical, emotional, and mental health benefits, which researchers believe are due to the meaningful connections that can be nurtured in a community atmosphere. In a group setting, you may also be more likely to smile and laugh, which releases endorphins.
The health benefits of regular exercise
Improving your fitness is good for your heart, lungs, bones, muscles, and joints. And it lowers your risk for falls, heart attack, diabetes, high blood pressure, and some cancers. Being more fit can also help you sleep better, handle stress better, and keep your mind sharp.
Even a basic recommended level of exercise, such as walking 30 minutes a day 5 days a week, is enough to help your body fight off a variety of diseases, including COVID-19. In fact, a study by Kaiser Permanente’s Center for Health Research showed that physical activity can reduce your risk of severe COVID-19 effects.
“With lockdowns ending and mask mandates lifting, there are so many possibilities for group exercise,” says Dr. Dunbar. “You can join a gym and take group classes, consider swimming lessons at a community center, or even just get a group of friends together for regular walks.”
Learn more about the overall benefits of fitness and wellness.