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Physical well-being during COVID-19 with Dr Adam Carey

When normal, physical routines are disrupted through unexpected events, students often find it hard to stay motivated and develop new routines. Of course, some of us are more conscious of this now, due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. To speak to this, IB Voices met with Dr Adam Carey, a doctor, nutritionist and leading commentator on all areas of sports nutrition and human performance. In the conversation, Dr Carey shares the importance of physical activity on our well-being and motivation, how to find motivation to get active, and what types of physical activity is beneficial and feasible while stuck at home.

You can listen to this episode by subscribing to IB Voices on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify or Stitcher.

Listen to the full interview on the IB Voices podcast

Do you have any tips on how students might motivate themselves when all they really want to do is “escape” the pandemic or this “new normal?”

Dr Adam Carey: Sure. I think motivation is a really interesting concept. People often say to me, “How do you get people to look after themselves more and ?” or “How do you get students to want to study?” These might seem rather difficult, but I think you have to take a step back and encourage people to think about what’s really important to them. It’s easy to put off something that is not important to you. So, it’s really useful to start to think about where you want to be at some point in the future. What is your vision?

But what can you do today to move yourself in that direction? That’s all about setting up internal motivation—which I see a subconscious puzzle. We don’t know all the answers, but we do know where we want to go, so it’s helpful to create “ goals.” These are sensible little things you could be doing to take a step in the direction you want to go that activates internal motivation. And that comes from personal work and a lot of purposeful thinking about what is really important to you.

Is physical movement or physicality something that can also improve your mood or internal motivation?

Dr Adam Carey: Absolutely. The best treatment for people who have anxiety and/or depression is actually physical exercise. The issue is, it is very difficult to get people who are depressed to start to exercise. So what that says is that physical activity is really good at affecting your mood, affecting how you feel. And actually, it is the complete antidote to stress.

So actually, if you want to modulate your mood, exercise is incredibly good at doing that, whether you’re stressed or not stressed. And if you take your cardiovascular exercises for 20 minutes or so, you start to get the release of endorphins and enkephalins, and these are chemicals in your brain that make you feel good. So that’s part of the physiology of how exercise improves people’s mood and makes them feel more relaxed and calmer. I find it to be the absolute antidote to chronic stress, particularly if you’re stuck at home because of what’s going on with the world.

” And if you take your cardiovascular exercises for 20 minutes or so, you start to get the release of endorphins and enkephalins, and these are chemicals in your brain that make you feel good.”

For people who are stuck at home, what are some tips or tricks you can give? Especially if they’re constrained by space, or don’t have access to gym facilities – or maybe even have a physical injury.

Dr Adam Carey: Well, interestingly, you don’t need very much space to do exercise. It’s great when you’ve got the outdoors. You can get exercise by going for a brisk walk, and that’s an excellent cardiovascular activity. But if you’re in a small space and it’s more difficult to go outside, you don’t have to worry about that too much because there are a lot of smartphone applications and online materials you can use.

For example, you could download the Seven app. This is a seven minute workout. You can also search YouTube for hundreds of free exercises from different personal trainers. There are many exercises, cardiovascular and strength/power-based exercises, that you can do in a small apartment with the furniture you have in your home, such as using the footboard at the end of your bed!

Also, I would suggest adding some stretching, and yoga into your exercise routine. Yoga is really good because not only is it giving you some stretching, it’s also giving you some strength work.

Plus, you have to focus on your breathing doing the various postures, and when you focus on breathing at the same time as moving, that is a mindful or meditative experience. When you’ve done yoga for 10 or 20 minutes, most people feel very relaxed because it is the same type of breathing associated with meditation. So, it’s a very mindful and calming experience, together with doing some stretching.

And one of the key things, if you’re going to do some exercises, is to remember always to stretch, and which requires no equipment or any additional space.

And for people who have physical injuries, remember to exercise the parts of the body that you can. If you’re left knee is e or it’s in a splint, exercise your right leg, or your back, or your shoulders. Anything else. It’s important to exercise the rest of your body.

And lastly, running around your home and cleaning, clearing things away, or tending the garden are all really great forms of incidental exercise. And I would definitely encourage that, as well. From an incidental activity point of view, you should be looking to do about 10,000 steps per day, which can be tracked through various smart devices. 10,000 steps is about the equivalent of walking five miles, which is likely the equivalent of walking outside briskly for an hour.

Do you have any parting thoughts for our global community of IB students?

Dr Adam Carey: Sure, one last thought. I know that the IB is all about reflective learning and the process of learning as opposed to the end result. And that’s the same for when I talk about motivation. Think about where you want to end up and take the small steps to get there. And know that physical activity results in a better functioning brain because you’re able to supply oxygen that your brain needs to work. It’s never a surprise to me that those who are more active are more effective and productive in the workplace and in school. Physical fitness really plays a key part in terms of improving your overall well-being and mental function. Even doing ten minutes of exercise a day is a great start – there is no need to beat yourself up for not exercising for an hour a day. No one starts like that. It’s a process.

” I would suggest adding some stretching, and yoga into your exercise routine. Yoga is really good because not only is it giving you some stretching, it’s also giving you some strength work.”

Okay, so in short: even the tiniest bit of physical activity can improve your mood and your internal motivation. And to find that motivation to act, focus on your long-term goals, while keeping in mind that results don’t happen overnight. Thank you so much Dr Carey for your time and passion.

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This interview was conducted by Zachary Fernebok, Product Marketing Manager for the Diploma Programme and Career-related Programme at the International Baccalaureate, and one of the hosts of IB Voices. Listen to more stories from students, schools, educators and more on the IB Voices podcast.

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