Variety is the spice of life… well exercise anyway


The COVID19 pandemic and the various lockdowns have proved to many of us that we don’t like to have our movement restricted. Whether we are restricted to the house to isolate, only allowed out once a day for exercise, stopped from going to the gym or from travelling too far to take a walk. The frustrations of lockdown have been plentiful.

Now we have a road map out of lockdown for England, and it appears to be on course, our expectations are raised. As we start to see light at the end of the tunnel we begin to miss those things that have not been in our lives more than ever. The closer they get the more we realise how much we have missed them. For many of us this is especially true of our relationship with exercise, even though we have always been able to leave the house for exercise.

Now a study that was started pre-pandemic gives a slightly different perspective on why we may have been suffering.

Researchers at the University Psychiatric Clinics in Basel, Switzerland found that the more varied locations people visited, the better they felt about their emotional and psychological wellbeing.

The study was carried out on 106 people with mental health issues, including affective disorders, anxiety disorders, mood disorders, personality disorders, and obsessive-compulsive disorders. For the period of the study they carried an extra phone around with them that was used to GPS track their movements. Those who had a higher variety of movement over space and over time reported a higher sense of personal wellbeing.

In other words those that felt they had no restrictions on where they went and when, felt higher levels of personal wellbeing. No wonder when we, as a population, felt restrained to a small geographical “local” area for exercise our sense of wellbeing diminished. The combinations of being told what to do, or loss of control, accompanied by having less choice about where we could exercise impacted our sense of wellbeing.

Add in that we can only exercise on our own and outside, we find ourselves restricted in the variety of exercises we can carry out.

My personal experience is that pre-covid19 I was playing badminton twice a week, walking my dog daily and going for a jog once a week. In the summer I may play golf occasionally too. That’s a nice variety of sports and types of exercise that gives me both competitive challenge, social contact and periods of reflection. Almost overnight those options disappeared for periods of time and it frustrated me, and I felt low.

During this time period I have studied, picked up and tried out other ways to support my mental health such as meditation and yoga (yes I am that cliched) which will stay with me long after restrictions are lifted. I still can’t wait, however, until I am able to get on the badminton court with a group of other people and have a really competitive game.

Of course, another tool in my kit for protecting my mental health is managing my own expectations. So while I can’t wait to start up again I know life does not always go according to plan.

There we are. As restrictions are lifted, why not use them as an opportunity to explore different types of exercise that play to your competitive, social or introverted side and the more variety the better. Enjoy.