Embedded within the minds of the populace is a recurring set of protocols: quarantine, lockdown, social distancing, masks, face shields, and vaccines. These ideas are the foremost answers to the question of “How do we face the threat of COVID-19?”. Their effectiveness has been proven through their prevalent use but are they all that we can do? They mostly represent a message of prevention and isolation. The distinct lack of emphasis on caring for one’s body through fitness and exercise seems eerie at times. It is without a doubt that we have limited facilities in this regard, with the closing of gyms and ample spaces for these kinds of activities. Perhaps it also does not easily occur to us that doing something so physical can have profound benefits for our immune system and mental health. Whatever the reasons may be, it is time to acknowledge that fortifying our health through exercise can be a viable option in this pandemic.
Tales From the Outside
Throughout the limited period of the General Community Quarantine (GCQ), The Makati Science Vision was able to interview several outgoers within Bonifacio Global City (BGC), Taguig about why they still choose to exercise despite the presence of COVID-19. This was a way to understand the perceived benefits of the activity and how it relates to certain themes.
To Stay Healthy
COVID-19 presents itself as a threat that directly targets the cells of our respiratory tract. Under this looming hazard, a handful of sports enthusiasts have encouraged the notion of strengthening our heart and lungs through exercises that test our cardiovascular endurance.
Manong Rene, a cyclist since 1993, sees his hobby as an opportunity to improve his immune system and well-being. “It [cycling] strengthens our immune system and of course, it serves as a recreational activity as well,’’ says Manong Rene when asked about why he chooses to participate in cycling.
Another interesting take was given to us by Daniel Ashley, a soccer coach hailing from Ghana, West Africa. In his own words, “What they always tell you is that you must drink vitamins just to stay healthy in this pandemic. This [soccer] is much better since it improves your cardiovascular endurance and your immune system.”
Regardless of the specific exercise or sport, it seems that most of the people participating in such activities are inclined to believe that an improvement in their cardiovascular endurance or immune system is well worth the risk and effort associated with their hobby.
To Improve Mental Health
There is a lot of sentiment backing the mental health benefits of physical exercise, as far-fetched as it is at first glance. Much like the soothing tones of the arts, it also serves as a channel where negative emotions are drained through every motion. This is in line with a certain duality within the pandemic where it doesn’t just affect our physiology, but also our psyches.
“It’s a way to cope with all the stress and depression this pandemic, especially after work, that’s why we play to have fun and to forget all the stress,” says Ate Josiah, a badminton player. Her story portrays the refuge in sports in these hard times, especially for those struggling with their jobs or careers in the pandemic. On the other side of the field lies her opponent, Kuya Max Alvarado, who originally came from the Central African Republic and had learned badminton 5 years ago when he was studying in China.
Speaking of the past and reliving the memories of old, Kuya Jazz, a former student and arnis player from the Rizal Technological University, quite fondly associates his practice rounds with a sense of longing and recuperation. “ I’m doing it [practicing arnis] because I want to relive my college days,” says Kuya Jazz when asked about his primary motivation. He also says that he was inspired to learn arnis because he was amazed by the lightsaber battles he used to watch in Star Wars.
The topic of mental health can often be subjective and personal at times, offering only little insight into a full-proof antidote. It is evident from the stories these people tell that there exists a connection between exercise, sports, and a clearer state of mind. The reason, motivation, and even perceived effects vary from person to person but a generalization can be made that these activities do instill some sort of benefit.
As a Recreational Activity
The pandemic has provided a set of circumstances wherein certain people, like students, have more time to themselves than ever before. The question now lies in how one should use that time. Not every moment is interesting and certain individuals would rather just entertain themselves in the process. On the opposite end, some would want to take advantage of that time to better themselves. Either way, utilizing the hours we have is a task in itself.
Anatalio Ganzan and Christian, both Grade 10 students from Fort Bonifacio High School, tackle the problem of time utilization through Tiktok and Taekwondo. Tiktok, a video-sharing and networking app, has utterly conquered the pastimes of many, and although the content within it is diverse, a good chunk of it is related to dancing. While waiting for their Taekwondo practice, the two students simply record themselves moving along to a tune. As benign as this may look like, media such as Tiktok at least encourages a form of entertainment where people are forced to move, which is certainly more suitable than being sedentary.
Anatalio, being a red-belter, says that he enjoys the element of choreography within the dances he performs since it reminds him of the various Taekwondo forms. Together with Christian, who himself is a brown-belter, they later engage in their afternoon training to be in tip-top shape for the next meet or competition.
Separating Fact from Fiction
With all that is said and done, these perceived benefits of exercise and sports can be enticing, but it does come with its own set of risks. All of the aforementioned sports were done in an outside environment, where the spread of the virus is prevalent. Balancing these activities with the looming threat of the pandemic requires a much-needed background in the appropriate scientific literature.
Are the Benefits True?
Based on the plethora of recent literature reviews from sports and health journals, sufficient physical activity does provide various physical and mental health benefits not too far off from the responses of the interviewees. An article from the journal, Medical Hypotheses, states that regular moderate-intensity aerobic exercises, such as brisk walking, can improve the body’s immune system. Another article tackling the immunological model of COVID-19 has also found out that low-moderate exercise can improve the body’s resistance to respiratory diseases, but strenuous exercise may have the opposite effect. Overtraining leads to a higher chance of infection since it severely increases airflow.
Tackling the mental health problems in the pandemic usually addresses the loss of social interaction which leads to isolation, depression, and anxiety. Exercise has been shown to mediate the release of serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine, all of which contribute to our body’s perception of well-being and happiness. It also serves as a distraction or rewarding activity that can help people cope with the challenges they face. According to a model made by a study on exercise frequency and mood in the pandemic, those who frequently exercised, at least once a day, reported better subjective well-being than those who were inactive.
Is it Worth it?
Even with all its great benefits, exercises must not be viewed as a panacea or a full-proof solution to all our health-related problems in the pandemic. Much like any other medicine, following certain guidelines ensures the best outcome from this endeavor. Evaluating the factors and risks associated with any physical activity helps us discern whether we should do it or not.
The first risk that needs to be addressed is location. Exercise can either be done outdoors or indoors, but both of these environments have their downsides. The outdoors offers much more space but is often restricted or seen as risky. Going outside increases the chances of interacting with someone who has the virus, and so protocols such as wearing masks and face shields must be followed which can often hinder the activity. The insides of any home or apartment may provide varying amounts of space but are often the safest places to exercise. Keep in mind that the virus quickly spreads out in an indoor environment, and so be cautious at all times.
Second on the list is the type and frequency of exercise. According to the United States Physical Activity Guidelines (PAG), children ages 6-17 should do at least 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity daily while adults should allot 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week. Do take note that overexercising or straining your body is dangerous as it leaves you vulnerable to the virus. Given the nature of COVID-19 and the limited options available, focus on home workouts consisting of bodyweight exercises with an emphasis on cardiovascular endurance. These include push-ups, squats, lunges, burpees, planking, etc. Many home workout apps and Youtube guides are available to guide you as well. Other hobbies that offer a good range of movements, such as dancing or yoga, are also fine. If possible, outdoor activities, such as jogging, can be beneficial. It is advisable to create a routine that one can easily follow.
Third and final is equipment. Exercise sessions can often be enhanced by the proper tools such as weights. Even with the lack of equipment within households, the availability of online shipping or even a little bit of creativity can help fix the problem. A simple incline or step can lead to many variations of exercises, a towel and a heavy object can be crafted into a makeshift weight, and a simple scroll through Lazada or Shopee can easily provide a jumping rope.
We must not allow ourselves to succumb to a sedentary lifestyle as the days pass by. Confined as we are, this must not make us stagnant and limited with our movements. To move is to once again take care of ourselves and to take our minds off the things that bother us. Lockdowns and protocols can easily make us feel swayed and forced, but we should also have the power to play an active role in the betterment of our health. When it comes to our fitness within the pandemic, the most important message is to move on and to keep it moving.