Kaiser Permanente research published today (November 11, 2021) in the journal Preventive Medicine showed people who exercised more during the initial lockdown period of the COVID-19 pandemic experienced less anxiety and depression than those who didn’t exercise. It also showed that people who spent more time outdoors typically experienced lower levels of anxiety and depression than those who stayed inside.

More than 20,000 people participated in the survey-based study from 6 regions served by Kaiser Permanente across the United States, which included Hawaii, Colorado, Georgia, and the mid-Atlantic states, as well as Southern and Northern California.

“What these study findings tell us is that even during an active pandemic or other public health crisis, people should be encouraged to be physically active to help maintain their physical and mental health,” said the study’s lead author Deborah Rohm Young, PhD, the director of the Division of Behavioral Research for the Kaiser Permanente Southern California Department of Research & Evaluation. “Parks and other nature areas should remain open during public health emergencies to encourage outdoor physical activity.”

In March 2020, COVID-19 developed into a worldwide pandemic. With no known treatment, public health officials attempted to reduce its spread by limiting human interactions through stay-at-home policies. Businesses temporarily closed or changed their practices to prevent the spread of the virus, affecting the economy and many people’s jobs. These stressful factors, along with fewer opportunities to socialize with friends and family, increased symptoms of depression and anxiety for many people.

Since it is known that physical activity and time spent in nature are associated with improved mental health, researchers at Kaiser Permanente in Southern California sought to determine how exercise and time outdoors was associated with people’s mental health during the height of the pandemic.

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