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This is how physical activity protected our mental health during confinement

The people who did the most physical activity and of greater intensity during lockdown they perceived fewer depressive symptoms and greater emotional well-being. This is the main conclusion reached by several studies carried out by the EDAFIDES group of the University of Oviedo (Uniovi).

The objective was to measure the depressive symptoms of the Spanish population during home confinement and analyze its relationship with levels of physical activity. For this, several transversal and longitudinal investigations were carried out that demonstrated the important role that said activity played during the confinement forced by the pandemic.

The results of these studies, which confirm the protective role of physical activity for mental health, have seen the light so far in seven such as the International Journal of Clinical and Health Psychology, Psicothema and the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.

We were concerned that health restrictions and social distancing measures put in place during the pandemic would lead to reduced physical activity and increased negative effects on mental health and emotional well-being.

Alejandro Carriedo, researcher at Uniovi

Alejandro Carriedo Cayon, author of the studies, explains that for several years the importance of physical activity has been highlighted and, above all, that it is acquired as a daily habit. “It has been shown that its practice has a positive impact on the physical, mental, social and emotional aspects of people.”

However, various investigations have observed that the majority of the population does not reach the levels of physical activity recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO). “We were concerned that sanitary restrictions and the social distancing measures put during the pandemic will worsen this situation and cause a reduction in physical activity and an increase in the negative effects on mental health and emotional well-being, ”says Carriedo.

The different studies addressed different aspects related to home confinement, such as its effects on weight changes, the role of resilience or depressive symptoms.

Thus, half a thousand people also responded to a questionnaire during four weeks of confinement on symptoms related to the depression. The results indicated that moderate physical activity was sufficient to prevent depressive symptoms, but the benefits were greater in those who exerted more effort.

Weight gain in the pandemic

At first, researchers from the University of Oviedo analyzed the weight changes as a consequence of the new activity and eating habits acquired during home confinement in a sample of more than 4,300 individuals. The authors note that there appears to be a connection between obesity, depression and diet.

Faced with a stressful situation, people can increase or decrease the food they eat. The experts observed that those who suffered the greatest weight fluctuations were those who manifested the greatest depressive symptoms

Faced with a stressful situation, people can increase or decrease the food they eat. “Most of the people who participated declared not having undergone weight changes,” he points out. Javier Fernandez Rio, another of the authors. “Those who experienced the greatest weight changes were, above all, men and people with obesity. In addition, those who suffered the greatest fluctuations were those who manifested the greatest depressive symptoms ”.

On the contrary, the people who did more physical activity and who showed more optimism they were the ones that best managed to maintain their weight.

The role of resilience

The second study carried out with a sample of 483 people between 60 and 92 years old analyzed the relationship between depressive symptoms, low affect and low resilience. The authors found that those who regularly engaged in vigorous and moderate physical activities reported higher levels of resilience, positive affect, and fewer depressive symptoms.

These results suggest, according to the researchers, that adults who met the WHO physical activity recommendations fared better and more optimistically with confinement. “Resilience is associated with general well-being, satisfaction, and quality of life, so in moments as dramatic as the ones we live in, it is important to acquire mechanisms that develop it “, he adds Jose Antonio Cecchini Estrada, Uniovi researcher.

Those who regularly engaged in vigorous and moderate physical activities reported higher levels of resilience, positive affect, and fewer depressive symptoms

Another study studied the association between physical activity and resilience during the first week of confinement in a population of 4,000 people between 16 and 82 years old.

This research concluded, in line with previous studies, that those who performed more vigorous activity showed higher levels of resilience, especially men between 25 and 54 years of normal weight.

Those others who lived with people at risk due to covid-19 showed lower levels of optimism. The investigation was completed with questionnaires carried out in successive weeks that yielded encouraging data. “We observed an increase in the levels of moderate and vigorous physical activity and we found that the resilience was related to the minutes that are carried out of any type of physical activity,” says Carriedo.

Predominant typologies

The last of the studies established three typologies of the Spanish population during the home confinement. One of these groups consisted of people who performed high levels of physical activity, with great resilience and low depressive symptoms. They were, mainly, people between 40 and 54 years old, with normal weight, who already practiced a lot of physical activity before confinement. During the confinement, 60% of them managed to comply with the minimum recommendations of the WHO.

The intermediate group, which represents 60% of the population, most of them over 40 years of age, was made up of people with average values ​​in physical activity, resilience and depressive symptoms. Only 38% of them complied with the physical activity recommendations established by the WHO.

The least adaptive group consisted mainly of women young people, under 25 years of age, with low levels of resilience and high levels of depression. These women also drastically reduced their physical activity during confinement, going from 69% who carried out some type of activity to 30% who managed to follow the advice of the WHO.

“Resilience and physical activity seem to have acted as elements of protection against the psychological consequences of home confinement in the Spanish population during the pandemic,” the authors conclude.

References:

Fernández-Río, J., Cecchini, JA, Méndez-Giménez, A. and Carriedo, A. (In press). Mental well-being profiles and physical activity in times of social isolation by the COVID-19. A latent class analysis. International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology

Méndez-Giménez, A., Cecchini, JA, Fernández-Río., Carriedo, A. (2021). Physical Activity and Prevention of Depressive Symptoms in the Spanish Population during Confinement by COVID-19, Psicothema, 33 (1), 111-117.

Cecchini, JA, Carriedo, A., Fernández-Río, J., Méndez-Giménez, A., González, C., Sánchez-Martínez, B., Rodríguez-González, P. (2021). A longitudinal study of depressive symptoms and physical activity during the Spanish lockdown. International Journal of Clinical and Health Psychology, 21 (1), 1-9.

Carriedo, A., Cecchini, JA, Fernández-Río, J., & Méndez-Giménez, A. (2020). Resilience and physical activity in people under home isolation due to COVID-19: A preliminary evaluation. Mental Health and Physical Activity, 19, 100361.

Carriedo, A., Cecchini, JA, Fernández-Río, J., & Méndez-Giménez, A. (2020). COVID 19, Psychological Well-being and Physical Activity Levels in Older Adults during the Nationwide Lockdown in Spain. American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 28 (11), 1146-1155

Fernández-Río, J., Cecchini, JA, Méndez-Giménez, A. and Carriedo, A. (2020). Weight changes during the COVID-19 home confinement. Effects on psychosocial variables. Obesity. Research and Clinical Practice, 14, 383-385. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.orcp.2020.07.006

Fernández-Río et al. (in press). Understanding the Confined by COVID-19: Qualitative Analysis. Journal of Psychology Studies

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