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Exercise and its relationship with mental health - Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

By Alexandria Olton

SOMEWHERE in my musings on the possible topics for this week's article, I began to think of all the major sporting events and news that have taken place over the past two weeks: the Sha'Carri Richardson ban, Wimbledon action, CWI Women dominating against Pakistan, Trinidad and Tobago qualifying for the Gold Cup, England breaking their 55-year plight making it into the Euro finals, the countdown to the Olympics and team TTO...and those are just the ones I can remember. The world of elite competitive sport is slowly beginning to revolve once more, with many restrictions of course, but there is life again.

I then began to reflect on the various conversations I've had within the same time frame with locally-based athletes, students, coaches, colleagues, family, and friends and without much effort swiftly realised that many of these discussions had two common themes. Those themes were:

1) Some form of difficulty or struggle with their mental health/wellness. Be it anxiety, stress, feeling overwhelmed, irritability, low mood, low motivation etc.

2) A yearning for the outdoors- for physical activity beyond the confines of their respective homes.

We have found ourselves, over the past year and some, in a perpetual struggle, attempting to protect our physical health and that of our family's through extreme behavioural change: restricted movement, socially distant interactions, closure of recreational facilities, elimination of recreational and competitive sport and exercise at a severe cost to our mental health.

I stumbled upon a quote by the Greek physician and father of anatomy, Herophilus that said, 'when health is absent, wisdom cannot reveal itself, art cannot become manifest, strength cannot be executed, wealth is useless, and reason is powerless.' What struck me most is how much this quote, written more than 2000 years ago, rings truer than ever in our modern world plagued by disease. The relationship between physical health/activity, and mental wellness is not a novel one, it has been observed for centuries and studied for decades as seen right here in Herophilus' reflections. What is novel, however, is the additional strain that a mandated lack of physical activity and exercise is placing on the mental well-being of the local and global population at large.

Just to provide some context, in 2018 (before the pandemic), mental ill-health accounted for 13 per cent of the total global burden of disease. That means that approximately 970 million people suffer from some form of mental health disorder. With predictions that depression alone will be the leading cause of disease burden globally by 2030. Without sounding entirely pessimistic, unfortunately, what the years 2020/2021 have done is simply sped up the process.

But how can exercise, play and physical activity have such an impact you might wonder? For the adolescent and adult population, it has remarkable impacts on stress reduction, improved mood, increased sense of

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