Lockdown has forced us all to adopt new ways of living and being. As we are all stuck inside our homes and apartments, it has become increasingly difficult to stay active. As a General Practitioner with years of experience helping patients with his holistic approach to health, Dr. Prabhjot Gill has a few key suggestions on how to integrate exercise into your daily routine, and the explicit benefits it can have on your mental and physical health.

Dr. Prabhjot Gill is a Portfolio General Practitioner with a focus on holistic care based in London, UK. His work involves primary care, urgent care, and private medico-legal work as a Medco accredited DME. Working as a full-time portfolio GP in NHS as well as in the private sector, Dr. Prabhjot Gill is passionate about digital medical care. Providing useful information about physical and mental health in the form of videos and health blogs, he creates practical ways to provide care to his patients. If you find yourself needing more information after reading his informative interview, we highly suggest heading to his YouTube channel Nova Health as well as his website for more information.

Can exercise help us deal with stress?

Well, we all know that exercise makes us physically strong, but it can also reduce your stress levels, boost your confidence, and improve your mental health. Exercise is extremely beneficial for anxiety, stress, low mood, and tiredness. In our busy lives, it is normal to feel run down and stressed out. To deal with those feelings, your body releases an important chemical called endorphins. There is a strong link between exercise and this hormone, as well as dopamine and serotonin. Dopamine and serotonin can improve your mood, sleep, digestion, memory and learning.

What physical benefits can it provide?

Exercise can not only help with weight loss and weight regulations, but it can improve blood circulation and help maintain healthy blood sugar levels. If you are at risk for diabetes, exercise can help you mitigate these risks. Exercise can also help you strengthen your muscles and bones, which can help prevent osteoporosis, keeping your bones stronger for longer, lowering the chances of bone injuries and fractures. The third benefit is its impact on your skin. Exercise increases the levels of antioxidants in your body, which slows down the aging process.

How long and intense do people have to exercise to achieve those benefits?

Actually, the exciting thing is that you do not have to do very long and intense work outs to achieve that. The chemicals (endorphins, dopamine and serotonin) produced by exercise will get triggered by any form of exercise whether it is less or more intense.

What types of exercise can people do?

While gyms around the country are closed, there are dozens of other ways for people to exercise during lockdown. There is jogging, swimming, walking, cycling, and many more that release these positive chemicals. As the internet is an endless resource, there are thousands of videos that can direct you through HIIT workouts, body weight exercises, yoga, pilates, and strength training according to your fitness levels. I think it is a great time to try new things, find out what works for you. I also suggest exercising in the morning, as it can give you an energy boost for the rest of the day.

What can people do to help keep things consistent?

I suggest having a workout routine, working out at the same time every day at least four times a week. For those working at home, or even for people who have been laid off, the lack of structure in their day can be a source of frustration. As stay-at-home orders do not have an end in sight, having a workout routine can inject a sense of normality into people’s lives.

What else should people do to stay healthy during lockdown?

Ensure they are eating whole, unprocessed foods. Of course, when you are only able to leave your house once every week (or two weeks), it can be difficult to keep fresh, whole foods in your home. However, I suggest either buying frozen vegetables, or portioning out your fruits and vegetables and freezing them for use when you are ready. I also want to encourage people to get at least 8 hours of sleep at night. As many of us no longer have to travel to work and back, use those extra moments in the morning or evening to allow your body to sleep as much as is needed. A lack of sleep can impact both your physical and mental health.

Does what you eat impact your dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin?

Yes, absolutely. There are actually certain foods that can have a greater impact than others on your physical and mental health. To increase dopamine, try consuming more protein, eating less saturated fat, consuming probiotics, and eating velvet beans. To increase the level of endorphins in the bloodstream, try consuming strawberries, animal proteins, oranges, spicy foods, grapes, nuts and seeds, and ginseng. To increase serotonin, try consuming eggs, cheese, pineapples, tofu, salmon, nuts and seeds, and turkey. There is a real connection between the gut and the brain, and in fact, it is estimated that 90 percent of the body’s serotonin is made in the digestive tract.

Do you have any advice for those struggling in lockdown?

Be kind, patient, and compassionate with yourself and others. This is a difficult time for everyone, but it is comforting knowing that we are all in it together. Take the time to reconnect with yourself and your loved ones, and allow yourself some space to lean into your comforts right now. If you need to eat a few cookies, watch a couple hours of Netflix, or sleep until noon, do what feels good for you—just remember to pick yourself up when you are down and keep going.