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  • Writer's pictureBeatrice Ng-Kessler 吳祟欣


If you do exercise regularly, you'll be aware of the link between exercise and mental health. Staying active helps to boost energy levels and releases mood-boosting endorphins. A large amount of research has shown that exercise strengthens the immune system, which reduces the chance of getting sick and speeds up recovery.


Firstly, the mind and body are inextricably linked. Sedentary lifestyles are associated with lower levels of happiness – we derive our happiness from a sense of physical well-being. Secondly, in addition to keeping you healthy, exercise also helps to boost your self-confidence and self-esteem, benefits which have a lifelong impact. For example, training courses don't just help you to keep fit – they also boost your happiness levels by providing a platform for you to build connections with like-minded people. Thirdly, exercise plays an important role in brain health. There were research studies published two decades ago has advocated exercise as an effective treatment for mental illnesses – this approach is supported by a wealth of research, demonstrating that regular aerobic exercise (such as brisk walking) is as effective as medication in treating patients with mild depression. In recent years, research has also shown that in addition to reducing the risk of depression and anxiety, regular exercise also results in brain structural changes to the brain that help to prevent dementia, Parkinson’s disease and other conditions associated with aging.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, many people have had fewer opportunities to exercise. In 2020, a research from Australia showed that lockdown policies resulted in an increase in negative feelings, including post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms, anger and confusion. In April 2020, the World Health Organisation (WHO) issued guidance stating that people in self-quarantine should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of high-intensity exercise per week, in order to maintain their physical and mental health (this activity can be spread throughout the week in several sessions).

Therefore, we must learn how to look after our mental well-being during the pandemic. I currently have many patients suffering from depression and anxiety who are unable to engage in their usual exercise, and have reported an increase in negative mood and anxiety.

I had a depressed patient whose mood was worsen since he couldn’t attend his boxing classes and had seen his symptoms worsen. We therefore discussed other possibilities for him to stay active during the pandemic, and I encouraged him to look for some fitness videos online. Inspired by my proposal, he started to do HIIT workouts at home and even bought a sandbag to practice boxing – hoping one day he could fight in a real boxing ring! In addition to increasing the exercise intensity and improving his mood, these home workouts also gave him a sense of hope. When he realised that he could still work on to achieve his dream of competing in a real boxing ring, he was able to concentrate on the here and now. This made a big difference to his mood.

Like many people in Hong Kong, I have a lot of friends who have moved overseas, one of whom organises online yoga and stretching sessions with her friends in Hong Kong. As a new social tool, meeting online has become a new way to connect with friends and families.

When many people are confined to their homes, it’s important to find ways to stay physically active. Here are some suggestions made by experts over the last two years of epidemic research studies:

EXERCISE WITH ONLINE WORKOUT VIDEOS Aerobic exercise, dancing, yoga, stretching, Pilates, HIIT

EXERCISE AT HOME WITH WORKOUT EQUIPMENT Exercise bike, treadmill, resistance band, etc. USING HOUSEHOLD ITEMS AS WORKOUT EQUIPMENT Substitute dumbbells with filled water bottles or packed food, and lift with more repetitions for optimal exercise intensity.

BODYWEIGHT EXERCISES WITHOUT EQUIPMENT Sit-ups, squats, push-ups, stair calf raises, etc.

FOR PEOPLE WHO DON’T HAVE ANY EXERCISE HABIT At the very least, do some housework! Clean the floor, hoover your apartment or clean the windows.

Writer: Beatrice Ng-Kessler_Registered Clinical Psychologist

Hong Kong Registered Clinical Psychologist, Hong Kong's First Advance Certified Schema Therapist from ISST, Canada Certified Mindfulness Trainer, Advanced Certified Schema Therapist.

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