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Have you made some post-pandemic predictions and found like-minded souls in a Facebook echo-chamber? Yep – me to!

Well one of my predictions is: Working from home will not be good for our long term physical and mental health. Appreciating the situation can be very different between individuals.

Let’s start with physical activity. Many of us meet our physical activity quota with the help of commuting and non-specific work-related movement. Much of this is short-term goal-orientated activity like walking to work or walking across your work site to speak with someone. Take this away and physical activity has to became much more conscious and planned and often less goal orientated which requires more motivation.

There is also less social contact that phone calls and video meetings cannot replace. Interactions like ‘how are you’ ‘would you like a coffee’ and ‘oh we have run out of coffee’. Home working is void of those little snippets of verbal and non-verbal interaction that help us feel a sense of being and belonging.

In contrast some people’s places of work may have involved a stressful sedentary commute and a barrage of excessive social interactions making homeworking a welcome reprieve, but perhaps one which overtime goes too far the other way with a lack of stimulus.

Getting to the point: –

Teychenne et al (2019) reviewed the evidence regarding mental health and activity recommendations and drew the following conclusions which you may find helpful when dealing with patients who display a low mood or a more defined depression diagnosis.

While national physical activity guidelines are very general in terms of ‘how’ the activity is completed the evidence suggests we can be more specific if mental health, specifically depression is the target problem.

 

Physical activity guidelines for mental health:

1: Individuals with depression often lack the motivation to complete long duration or high-intensity activity and research indicates that even low intensity and short duration activity can be helpful. It is of course much better than none at all and may serve to build motivation and confidence to do more. Aim for at least 10 minute bouts.

2: People need to immediately or rapidly perceive being competent at the activity if it is to be a sustainable plan with a positive outcome.

3: Activity domain and context matters. Recreational and enjoyable activity is best. Work related activity is unlikely to help and research shows a negative effect. Commuting based activity can also work.

4: Outside is better than inside. Greenspace or blue space (sea, lake).

 

Hopefully these will be helpful when communicating with clients. Another key point from the article is that prevention is better than cure so doing these things in the first place is a good idea, rather than waiting until they need to be done. I think we knew this already but its worth reflecting on.

 

Don’t forget to refer on for professional mental health help if required – don’t just send them all down the beach although that’s where most of the population has already gone this summer.

 

Reference: Teychenne, M., White, R. L., Richards, J., Schuch, F. B., Rosenbaum, S., & Bennie, J. A. (2019). Do we need physical activity guidelines for mental health: what does the evidence tell us? Mental Health and Physical Activity, 100315. doi:10.1016/j.mhpa.2019.100315