Exercise During a Pandemic
Exercising is hard. Exercising during a global pandemic is even harder.
Even after more than a year, I feel like I’m still adjusting to pandemic workouts. I used to rely on school to force me to exercise, so when the pandemic hit, I had no idea what to do. After several weeks of not working out at all, I started trying to go for runs during the day, mostly just to get outside. That worked for a while; during the spring and summer when it was warm and sunny, I looked forward to running. I even worked my way up to a half marathon by the end of August. But when it started to get cold, I lost all my motivation. I was buried in school work and could not muster up enough energy to workout. I dreaded even thinking about my running routes and how far away they seemed. What once was a glorious outlet that filled me with confidence had become a chore.
As Hopkins students, we were stuck at home for much of the cold, gray winter. We only got the movement of walking between classes every other week, assuming we even chose the hybrid option of school. By reducing our movement, we lost a factor that helps to reduce stress. According to Health Line, exercise of any kind is proven to stimulate the release of endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin. Our brain chemistry is an important part of our mental well being and physical activity contributes to releasing the chemicals in our brains that improve our mood. During the winter, I missed the feeling I held onto all day after a morning run. I always loved the snow and the cold, but this year I just missed going outside and that glorious feeling of exhaustion I get after I finish a run. When the warm weather finally came, I felt an immediate sense of relief and freedom from the dark winter months. I could finally go for walks and runs again!
Despite Covid complications, there is still a stigma around weight gain and the pressure to have a “quarantine glow-up.” Society’s expectations for exercise and the way our bodies look persists, especially for women. Social media, beauty standards, and stereotypes shame people for pandemic-related health changes, like unwanted weight gain or loss, changes in sleep patterns, and an increase in alcohol consumption. Stress manifests itself in people in many different ways; some get bad acne, some can’t sleep, some turn to food and drink, and some turn to exercise. Our coping mechanisms for stress became much more evident during the past year. Given that we’ve not yet made it to the other side of the pandemic, we don’t know what the long term effects of these changes will be.
Our physical state often reflects our mental state; we already know that we are going to be facing pandemic-related trauma long after it has ended. As a society, we need to focus on bettering our mental and emotional selves so that we can be in the right mindset to find balance and healthy habits moving forward. We should not blame people for turning to food or quitting exercise during this time. What good is it going to do to make people feel bad about it? Society needs to accept that and present the tools and motivation to help people reach the healthiest version of themselves. Maybe that’s more weight or less exercise than before the pandemic and maybe it’s not.
Life is about balance. If there’s anything I’ve learned from my pandemic runs and then my winter crash, it’s that we need to accept those ups and downs to find that balance. I’m grateful to have turned to running, especially during the early months of Covid, but I wish I could have balanced that with grabbing a donut from the Cafe and taking walks during the school day with friends. I can’t wait to have that balance again!