A recent study found that people who were more physically active during the first few months of the pandemic struggled significantly more than those who exercised less. Researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology tracked the mental health of physically active adults during the first phase of the pandemic. The study was published in the International Journal of Public Health.
The researchers collected the initial round of data in June 2020 (a few months into the shutdowns) and then again six months later. The 855 participants were members of a Norwegian fitness sports organization called Kondis.
The findings showed that the pandemic was associated with worse mental health for physically active individuals. Very physically active people had the most depression symptoms, and those who increased their amount of exercise early after the shutdown in March also experienced greater increases in anxiety and depression later in the pandemic. According to study author Audun Havnen, “The mental health of physically active people who increased their activity level at just over six months into the pandemic deteriorated more than for people who didn’t start exercising more.” The researchers concluded that pushing ourselves can have a detrimental impact on wellbeing.
Those who exercise more than average may have traits that make them more susceptible to depression symptoms. The study showed that participants who reported a drop in exercise early in the pandemic also had the highest levels of anxiety and depression.
The study also observed some gender differences. Women’s anxiety levels remained stable, but men’s anxiety symptoms increased. Both men and women experienced symptoms of depression.
Following a simple and flexible fitness plan during the pandemic can alleviate depression and anxiety, so many health organizations and countries are developing initiatives to promote greater physical and mental wellness.