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Make exercise the theme song in the soundtrack of your life

You have more than a few, I’m sure. Those songs that really do it for you.

Get your juices flowing. Get your body going.

I have more than a few, too. And do you know what increases my flow, supercharges my go when I hear a song like Chevelle’s “Send the Pain Below” or “Vasoline” by the Stone Temple Pilots?

Hearing it while I’m working out.

I’m too spooked (or is it sensible?) to use ear buds when I cycle outside, but if I’m doing so inside intensely, or lifting weights for that matter, I take as much time beforehand selecting the playlist as scripting the workout.

All of this is just more support of what I’ve asserted time and time again. That exercise is the perfect condiment for whatever dish you select from life’s lavish smorgasbord.

Even if your figurative feasting takes place during something as unsettling as a lockdown.

My assertion’s been seconded by a study done by the U.S. Kaiser Permanente Research Bank of over 20,000 adults that has been available online since November 11 at Preventive Medicine. These adults participated four surveys, one that functioned as a baseline and three follow-ups in the next three months, and did not report COVID-19 symptoms.

When the researchers tallied the surveys, they learned anxiety and depression increased when lockdowns from the COVID-19 pandemic led to less physical activity, reaffirming a widespread belief held long before the world was forced indoors. That physical activity, as well as time outdoors, leads to better mental health.

Ultimately, the study encourages people “to continue physical activity participation during public health emergencies.”

A similar study, conducted between April and September of 2020 by North Carolina State University researchers that surveyed in depth more than 4,000 adults residing in four very different states - Louisiana, Montana, North Carolina, Oregon, and West Virginia - confirms all this, but adds a caveat. That, despite providing more time to do so, the increased psychological stress and added restrictions that accompany any pandemic make it more difficult for people to maintain their physical activity levels.

This situation creates what Lindsey Haynes-Maslow, co-author of the study and an associate professor of agricultural and human sciences at North Carolina State University, calls a “roller-coster ride,” but it strikes me as a Catch-22. That’s because the researchers found the lack of physical activity caused by the psychological stress of the pandemic makes additional psychological stress more likely, the effect of which - you guessed it - makes physical actively even less likely.

But lucky for you, you reside in rural Carbon County. The research determined you’re more likely to get caught up in the Catch-22 in an urban area.

Income level also seems to affect whether or not you exercise as much during a pandemic as you did before it. In the NC State study, people in households that earned less than $50,000 per year were 1.46 times less likely to exercise at their pre-pandemic levels when compared to people in households that earned more than that.

With December and its ever-diminishing daylight soon upon us and the prospects of our recent chilly weather giving way to an uncomfortable cold, many exercisers are now doing all of theirs indoors. But there’s good reason to bundle up and get out if only on weekends - and it’s not just because you burn additional calories keeping yourself warm.

It’s a matter of mental health, and one that’s addressed in a WebMD article about the previously mentioned U.S. Kaiser Permanente Research Bank study of over 20,000 adults.

In it, Dr. David A. Merrill, adult and geriatric psychiatrist and director of the Pacific Neuroscience Institute’s Pacific Brain Health Center at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, CA, notes that prior research makes it “very clear” that both the mind and the brain function better when you spend part of your day outdoors. In fact, Merrill notes that there are even studies linking a lack of time outdoors to brain atrophy.

Dr. Bert Mandelbaum, sports medicine specialist, orthopedic surgeon, and co-chair of medical affairs at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles, offers that the combination of exercise and doing so outside not only decreases anxiety and depression, but also “optimize[s] people’s lives.”

It’s a phrase that may look vaguely familiar to you since the stated goal of this column from its start has been to help you achieve optimal health and fitness. Here’s an immediate way for you to do that.

Listen to a few of those tunes that really do it for you as dress appropriately for an outdoors run, ride, hike, walk, or whatever. Have a strong cup of coffee or two if you feel a bit lacking in motivation and keep saying, “Mood follows action,” as you make your final preparations.

And as the winter progresses, don’t let anything short of black ice, freezing rain, a significant snowfall, or the type of cold that causes frostbite stop you from getting outside at least twice a week.