You know eating nutritious foods and regularly exercising are healthy habits to implement—but it’s never been harder to do that than during self-isolation thanks to the coronavirus. Moving your body is the best way to keep your mind healthy, your body lean, and your systems firing on all cylinders. It’s also the best way to keep the virus at bay.
So, how do you know when the walk from the couch to the fridge isn’t cutting it for daily exercise? Take a look at these warning signs—inspired by the American Heart Association‘s Move More Month—and if any strike a chord with you, it’s time to make exercise a daily priority.
You Get Bad Sleep
If you live for caffeine but still feel groggy throughout the day, you may not be getting enough sleep. One reason your sleep is suffering? Not enough movement during the day.
If you exercise regularly, you tire out your body, making it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep. A study published in Advances in Preventive Medicine analyzed the relationship between sleep and exercise and found that “physical activity promotes improved sleep quality and efficiency.” When you exercise during the day, your quality and the amount of deep sleep you get improves.
Your Blood Pressure Is High
Whether your doctor warned you about your high blood pressure at your last visit or you tested it yourself at a pharmacy, it should be taken seriously. According to the Mayo Clinic, “The higher your blood pressure and the longer it goes uncontrolled, the greater the damage.”
Strengthening your heart is the best way to get your blood pressure under control and that’s precisely what exercise does. “Becoming more active can lower your systolic blood pressure—the top number in a blood pressure reading,” says the Mayo Clinic. By simply adding 30 minutes of regular exercise to your routine, you may be able to avoid blood pressure medications and lower your reading on your own. Apps like Beachbody and Openfit can help.
Your Lower Back Hurts
If you’re spending a ton of time in bed and on the couch, you may find yourself waking up with a stiff lower back on most mornings. You could also start feeling lower back pain throughout the day as you sit at your desk or even at night as you’re sitting on the couch. If you don’t have any underlying conditions that cause back pain, it may easily be eliminated by simply moving more.
A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine analyzed the causes of lower back pain. In most cases, the culprit was—you guessed it—lack of exercise. “The current evidence suggests that exercise alone or in combination with education is effective for preventing lower back pain.” It strengthens your muscles so they can more easily support your back when you’re standing, sitting, or moving.
You Always Feel Hungry
If you’re not moving, your body shouldn’t need as much food. But it can trick you into thinking it’s not getting enough fuel. If you have a constant appetite but you’re not active, it may be because your body is producing too much ghrelin, the hormone that makes you feel hungry.
In a study published in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicines, some male participants were asked to exercise while others remained sedentary. Their ghrelin levels and appetites were analyzed and the study found that exercise had a “positive effect on reducing appetite which is related to reduced acylated ghrelin responses over time.” Can’t stop eating? Maybe it’s time to start moving so you can regulate your appetite.
You Experience Mood Swings
You may chalk up your unexpected crankiness or melancholy to the big project your boss just threw at you or the annoying way your spouse hums in the shower. But these mood swings may be due to a lack of exercise and not due to actual emotions you’re feeling.
If you’re tired of experiencing these fragile and unexpected mood changes, it’s time to incorporate exercise into your daily routine. According to Michael W. Otto, Ph.D., professor at Boston University, “Usually within five minutes after moderate exercise you get a mood-enhancement effect.”
A study published in The Primary Care Companion attributes exercise to mood stabilization due to increased blood circulation and “an influence on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis,” or the part of your brain that creates your physiological reaction to stress. Exercise helps your body stay calm and your mind react more rationally to everyday annoyances.
You Don’t Stay “Regular”
If digestive problems have you all backed up, exercise may be the answer. If you’re not moving your body regularly, your digestive system just doesn’t have the motivation to continue moving either. According to Harvard Medical School, the colon responds to stimulation and if you’re not exercising, it’s not being stimulated.
When your muscles are toned, they can also help ward off constipation because you need them to assist in a successful bowel movement. If you’re dealing with chronic constipation, adding exercise to your daily routine may help alleviate the symptoms.
You’re Winded After a Flight of Stairs
Even if you’ve consistently skipped your workout for months now, you may still consider yourself “in shape.” But if one flight of stairs has you huffing and puffing, that’s hardly the case. Regular exercise improves cardiovascular health, keeping your heart strong and making life’s daily tasks easier to tackle.
A study published in Frontiers in Cardiovascular Medicine found that “sustained physical activity is associated with decreased markers of inflammation, improved metabolic health, decreased risk of heart failure, and improved overall survival.” Add in daily exercise and you’ll be surprised at how easily your lungs and heart handle your next flight of stairs.
If your doctor recently diagnosed you with pre-diabetes, don’t panic. There are steps you can take for your health that can still reverse this diagnosis. One important step is exercise.
A study analyzed by Duke University Medical Center found that study participants who engaged in moderate exercise (7.5 miles of brisk walking each week) had an average of 7% improvement in glucose tolerance. Follow your doctor’s orders for dealing with your pre-diabetic diagnosis, but be sure to add in moderate exercise to your routine.
You’re Feeling Stressed and Tense
It’s no coincidence that you’re starting to feel more tightly wound at the same time as nixing your daily exercise routine—or leaving the house. You may not have noticed, but moving your body everyday was helping you to deal with stress in a healthy way.
According to Harvard Medical School, when the body is enduring physiological stress, it experiences physical symptoms, including muscle tightness, headaches, neck pain, a clenched jaw, and chest tightness. Moving your body or engaging in a quick exercise session “resets” your body’s reactions to stress. While the cause of your stress may not disappear, exercising can eliminate or lessen the symptoms of stress, allowing you to think more clearly and put your issues back into perspective.
You Keep Getting Sick
If you feel like you’ve caught way more colds this year than you usually do, you can blame a sedentary lifestyle. If you’ve taken exercise and daily activities that require you to move off your schedule, your body’s immune system may not be functioning up to par.
A study published in the Journal of Sport and Health Science researched the relationship between exercise and the immune system. It found that, “Acute exercise is an immune system adjuvant that improves defense activity and metabolic health.”
The study also concluded that “Habitual exercise improves immune regulation, delaying the onset of age-related dysfunction.” If you’re sick of getting sick, add in daily exercise so you can strengthen your immune system.
Your Joints Feel Stiff
Think a stiff neck and rigid knees are just a sign that you’re getting old? Think again. If you don’t exercise regularly or make sure your body is moving at least 30 minutes each day, it may be the reason your joints are stiffening up.
It’s a common misconception that exercise is tough on your joints and can even cause arthritis. The Mayo Clinic actually suggests that arthritis patients engage in low to moderate intensity exercise to improve joint stiffness.
Daily exercise strengthens the muscles around your joints and your bones, alleviating some stiffness. If you’re experiencing joint stiffness, don’t mistake it as your body asking for a break. Get involved in an exercise regimen to help your joints feel better fast.
You Can’t Focus
If you’ve been spacing out in Zoom meetings or scrolling through socials when you should be working on a project, think about how consistent you’ve been with exercise. Losing focus on daily activities is common if you’re not engaging in a solid daily exercise routine.
Dr. John J. Ratey from Harvard Medical School extensively studied how exercise can improve learning and focus. He concluded that, “Aerobic exercise physically remodels the brain for peak performance on all fronts.” More specifically, it improves alertness and attention while making it easier for you to log new information. Next time you feel your eyes glazing over while staring at a spreadsheet, consider upping your exercise game.
You’re at Risk for Heart Disease
If heart disease runs in your family, you may be at a higher risk for experiencing a cardiac event at some point in your life. Exercise can help ward off heart disease because it keeps your heart strong and blood circulating.
A daily exercise regimen can also reduce certain risk factors for heart disease. According to a study published in the International Journal of General Medicine, “Regular physical activity helps reduce several cardiovascular risk factors including obesity, dyslipidemia, hypertension, metabolic syndrome, and diabetes mellitus.” Don’t just sit around and worry about your risk for heart disease, lower it by moving your body.
You’re Having Trouble Breaking Bad Habits
Can’t quit smoking? Having trouble saying no to sweets? Can’t quite kick the soda habit? If you’re having trouble breaking a bad habit, adding more exercise into your life may make it easier to say no.
A study published in Frontiers in Psychiatry examined how exercise helped drug abusers break their addictions. After examining how exercise affected drug addicts’ brains, the study concluded that “enough is now known to begin the process of designing and implementing exercise-based interventions in clinical and at-risk populations.” While you may not be trying to quit using drugs, implementing a solid exercise plan or just a commitment to move your body everyday may be the focus you need to break a bad habit.
Your Doctor Diagnosed You as Overweight
You may have felt your pants getting a little tighter, but when your doctor specifically referred to you as “overweight,” it was your wake-up call. One of the best ways to shed the pounds is to begin incorporating an exercise routine.
According to the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, your daily exercise goals don’t have to be lofty. Only about 30 minutes of moderate exercise everyday is recommended to aid in weight loss. 30 minutes is only 2.5% of your day. Make the commitment and you’ll see changes quickly.
You Feel Anxious
Sweaty palms, racing heart, constant feeling of impending doom…anxiety can ruin your day. If you’ve been experiencing bouts of anxiety more often lately—and who hasn’t?—it could be due to a lack of movement. Exercise is known as a way to release anxious energy and leave your body feeling calm and restful.
Physical activity produces endorphins and improves mood, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, which is why many psychologists prescribe exercise for patients with anxiety disorders. And the results are dramatic. The association concludes that, “One vigorous exercise session can help alleviate symptoms for hours, and a regular schedule may significantly reduce them over time.”
Your Skin Is Dull
You’ve stuck with the same skincare routine but you’ve noticed a lackluster dullness. Before you buy a $400 skin rejuvenating cream, take a look at your exercise schedule. If you’re not working up a sweat regularly, your sedentary lifestyle could be contributing to your dull skin.
Dr. Whitney Bowe, a dermatologist in New York, says that exercise increases blood flow to your skin, which decelerates the skin aging process. This increased blood flow also provides nutrients and oxygen to your skin cells, giving it a desirable glow. Move more everyday and you may notice the disappearance of dull skin.
You Find Yourself Slouching
Your parents always told you to sit up straight and they were right. Having good posture is better for your bones and the alignment of your spine. If you hunch over at your desk for most of the day, or you’re lying in bed working, it could be due to a lack of exercise. Without a solid exercise plan, your ab muscles can weaken. According to a study published in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science, weak ab muscles lead to postural imbalance, which can cause spinal and bones issues in later years.
After experimenting with 88 students on posture correction and exercise, the study concluded that to correct postural imbalance, an “increase of muscle strength and flexibility through regular overload exercise is necessary.” Move your body, build your muscles, and prevent posture problems later in life.
Your Blood Sugar Levels Are Off
If your routine blood work delivered the shocking news that your blood sugar levels are off, a high-carb diet may be to blame. If cutting bagels and bread from your diet indefinitely makes you want to cry, consider adding exercise to your daily routine.
According to the American Diabetes Association, “Physical activity can lower your blood sugar up to 24 hours or more after your workout by making your body more sensitive to insulin.” With a higher sensitivity to insulin, the small amount of carbs you safely add to your diet won’t affect your blood sugar levels as dramatically. Consult with your doctor about exercise recommendations before you add it into your routine.
Everyone Else is Lapping You
You shouldn’t compare yourself to others. But if you can’t keep up with everyone else on the rare trip out to the grocery store, it’s a warning sign you need to step up your exercise routine.
Recruit the very same friends and family members who are in better shape to be your social support system—and start an exercise group online. A study published in the Journal of Physical and Health analyzed 100 adults planning to take on an exercise program. The study concluded that social support was the most important factor when it came to adhering to a 12-month program. If you’re on board for increasing your stamina through exercise, taking on a new routine with a partner may help you stay on track.
And to get through the coronavirus pandemic at your healthiest, don’t miss these 50 Things You Should Never Do During the Coronavirus Pandemic.