There have been many studies that prove that physical exercise is beneficial for people’s mental health. During the era of the coronavirus pandemic, when many people are staying home, and not even commuting to work, getting physical exercise becomes even more important.
A new study that looked at students in China during the height of the country’s pandemic revealed that we might need more than the usual amount of recommended exercise to reap the mental health benefits due to the severity of the situation and effects the pandemic may have on our mental health.
How much exercise do you need to counteract negative emotions?
The study, published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, found that about 45 minutes of vigorous exercise during the pandemic could sufficiently reduce negative emotions.
The study involved 66 college students in China who stayed at home during the pandemic in order to follow social distancing guidelines. While the students were involved in the study, the pandemic continued to rise in severity and steadily peaked in China. None of the participants contracted COVID-19 during the study.
The students were asked to complete an online survey on February 19, March 5, and March 20, roughly two weeks apart. Through these online surveys the researchers found out how many days in the past two weeks the student had engaged in light, moderate, and vigorous physical activity and how many minutes they spent on each type of exercise.
The researchers used Metabolic Equivalent of Task (MET) values to calculate each student’s energy expenditure. Increased physical activity was related to a lower DASS score, lower negative emotions and reduced depression.
Further analysis pointed to a “sweet spot” when physical activity produced its protective benefits. There was a “dose-response curve” between physical activity and negative emotions, which demonstrated that too little and too much physical exercise worsened participants’ negative emotions.
In order to minimize negative emotions, the author recommend getting physical activity that amounts to 2,5000 METs, which corresponds to 108 min of light, 80 min of moderate, or 45 min of vigorous physical activity every day.
This recommendation is higher than that of previous studies, which have suggested getting 60 minutes of moderate-vigorous exercise per day. The authors suggest that during the pandemic, people need more exercise than usual “to offset the psychological burden and negative emotions” that many are feeling while they social distance.
How did the coronavirus pandemic impact sleep quality and aggressiveness?
On the survey, students were also asked to describe their sleep quality and their negative emotions, using the Depression and Anxiety Stress Scale (DASS). The questionnaire also measured their levels of aggressiveness by assessing levels of hostility, anger, verbal aggression, and physical aggression.
Out of the 66 students, 66% reported having worries about COVID-19 and 42% experiences poor quality of sleep. Interestingly, as the number of local death due to COVID-19 increased, the participants’ sleep quality dropped, with sleep efficiency showing the strongest relationship with the number of deaths.
Neither negative emotion nor global DASSS scores were related to the number of COVID-19 deaths, and aggressiveness was negatively correlated with the death count.
“The COVID-19 outbreak has reduced people’s aggressiveness, probably by making people realize the fragility and preciousness of life,” the authors wrote.
Jennifer Fabiano is an SEO reporter at Ladders.