Prashant Chopra, 41, had taken exercising seriously just once in his life. That was in 2013 when his father had to undergo an emergency bypass surgery. Chopra was jolted enough by this to decide on changing his lifestyle and work on his health. Back then he tried his hand at HIIT and swimming for full three weeks before slipping back into his hectic work-family routine. However, during the first lockdown in March last year, he took to yoga and even bought a cycle. These days Chopra, chairman of a Kolkata-based real estate company, wakes up early and does yoga or goes cycling at least five times a week.
Chopra is among the countless people around the world who took to exercising regularly during the pandemic. A study conducted between March and May 2020 during the first wave of covid-19 when several governments had imposed lockdowns, found that those who rarely exercised before the pandemic tended to increase their exercise frequency during the lockdowns. This study suggests that under similar lockdown conditions, about two thirds of those who never or rarely exercised before might adopt an exercise behaviour. The study, titled When Pandemic Hits: Exercise Frequency and Subjective Well-Being During COVID-19 Pandemic, surveyed over 16,000 people across 99 countries.
In Mumbai, Jasdeep Pannu, 47, a sports content entrepreneur, led a very active life before the pandemic, that consisted of running, tennis, gold, cycling and working out at a gym. He was most worried about his workout and sport routine when the lockdown was announced in India. With no signs of any relief anytime soon, he found a dealer and bought himself a squat rack, an Olympic lifting bar, plates, dumbbells and kettlebells and set them up in his spare bedroom.So, when the lockdowns returned to Mumbai in April this year, he was prepared, performing his workouts in his spare bedroom gym and going for runs or cycle rides early in the morning.
Pannu’s behaviour confirmed something that the researchers had found. Those who frequently exercised before a lockdown tended to maintain the habit and even increase their exercise frequency during it. Pannu, for example, used to average four to five workouts a week before the pandemic. During the pandemic he started working out six days a week, alternating between strength training and aerobic activities. “It was something I used to look forward to. Since every meeting and all work landed up in one place, namely my flat, there was zero physical movement involved through the day. There was no stepping out of the flat either. So, when I went for a run or cycling early in the morning, it was the only time I was stepping foot outside, soaking in the sun and breathing fresh air. I used to look forward to it,” says Pannu.
For many people this pandemic provided an opportunity to prioritise their health. “A section of people that has not had the time to incorporate a workout routine before is also now leveraging the convenience of at-home workouts to either get back into fitness or start their fitness journeys,” says Naresh Krishnaswamy, growth and marketing head at Cult.Fit.
Also Read: Should you workout in hot and humid weather?
Usually, finding the time and giving exercise the importance that it requires gets compromised by work routines, travel schedules and other plans, explains Kamna Chhibber, head of department of mental health and behavioural sciences at Fortis Healthcare. “This (the pandemic lockdowns) provided a big opportunity for many to be able to devote the time needed and also gain a sense of control and mastery over a time that seemed to be challenging everyone's ability to cope. It became an effective way to utilise the time that was available as well,” she says.
In line with the shift in attitudes towards fitness, Krishnaswamy says Cult.Fit have witnessed an increase in the adoption of fitness programmes over the past year. He says that there has been a three-fold increase in the time users have spent on Cult.Live. “Dance fitness and yoga have emerged as two of the most in-demand workouts on our platform,” he adds.
The study also found that with regards to subjective well-being, those who exercised almost every day experienced the best mood, regardless of whether or not they exercised pre-pandemic. “Exercise and physical activity are good for mental well-being. These help in feeling good about the self, triggering the release of the good hormones within the body. Maintaining an active physical routine is helpful in general to create a positive mindset,” says Chhibber.
Also Read: Can yoga help you lose weight?
Both Chopra and Pannu said that they feel good on days that they workout. In the early days of the lockdown, before Pannu bought the equipment, he found his energy levels dropping due to a lack of exercise and physical activity. “I realised I have to move to feel alive and kicking. So, once I got my weights and started working out my mood improved and so did my appetite. If not for exercise during this pandemic, I’d have probably developed some mental health issues,” he says.
The study also found that those who were inactive before the pandemic and slightly increased their exercise frequency during the pandemic, reported no changes in mood compared to those who remained inactive through the pandemic. However, those who reduced their exercise frequency during the pandemic reported worsening mood compared to those who maintained or increased their pre-pandemic exercise frequency.
Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.