Use it or lose it! Reasons to stay active during lockdown
Christmas is over, the temperature is dropping and it looks as if it will be a while before lockdown restrictions will be eased. It’s enough to make you want to crawl back under your duvet and stay there until things look rosier! However, keeping active and undertaking some level of exercise on a daily basis, not only helps to keep us physically fit, mitigating aches and pains and reducing the chance of injury, it also helps with our mental health.
The closure of gyms and the fact that many people are working from home again, means that their daily actively levels are significantly reduced. Our bodies are meant to move and when we lead sedentary lives, several things start to happen in our body.
Loss of muscle mass
Our muscles start to atrophy, in laymen’s terms, they reduce in size and become weaker. When we are physically active, the muscles we use are put under stress. The body’s response to any kind of stress or effort is adaptive, meaning that it will increase its tolerance to that stress in the future by becoming stronger. In other words, the more we use them, the stronger muscles become. Conversely, if we don’t use muscles, they become smaller and weaker. Ironically, the fitter you are with greater muscle mass, the quicker you are likely to lose it if your activity levels significantly drop. Bummer, huh?
Decrease in flexibility
Inactivity can cause our muscles and myofascial tissue – the connective webbing that surrounds them – to become tight and inflexible. Keeping yourself hydrated and devoting a little bit of time each day to stretching can help to keep the body supple and prevent postural issues through muscle tightness.
However, it is also worth noting that tightness can be caused by the overuse of muscle groups. During lockdown when the types of exercise we can do is limited, many people take to walking or running. Without a good post-activity stretch out, repeatedly doing large amounts of the same activity each day can lead to the muscles involved becoming tight through overuse. In the case of running and walking, this would be your calves and hamstrings often leading to lower back aches and pains.
Loss of Neuromuscular connection
Movement connects the brain and the body. In Pilates, we often talk about the mind-body connection. It's important for two reasons. Firstly, being mindful of the movements we are making with the body, gives us better body awareness and proprioception and also ensures that we are executing the movements with focus and good technique rather than just ‘going through the motions’. The second is that inactivity not only causes a reduction in muscle mass, our neuromuscular connection - the link between our muscles and the brain - also becomes weaker and less effective. Muscles work by being innervated by nerve signals from the brain, when this doesn't happen because we aren't using them, it's as if the body turns down the switch and the messages become fuzzy and unclear.
Reduction of your 'feel good' factor
The events of the past year have been enough to test the most positive person's state of mind. However, it is now widely recognised that exercise and good mental health go hand-in-hand. Adults participating in daily physical activity have a 20%-30% lower risk of depression and general feelings of distress (Start Active, Stay Active). Buy why is this? The act of exercising releases chemicals called endorphins. Endorphins are one of the main neurotransmitters in our brain that determine how we feel and react and can help to improve our mood. One of these chemicals is Serotonin, the chemical most antidepressants target in an effort to improve people’s mood. So making that effort to get out for a walk or run, or joining me on the mat for your regular Pilates session will not only make you stronger, fitter and more flexible, it can help to lift your mood and prevent you from crawling back underneath that duvet!