Exercise promotes chemicals in the brain that improve your mood and help you maintain a consistently high level of quality care. Bonus: it’s fun.

Since the outbreak of coronavirus disease on 31 December 2019, frontline health workers across the world have been under unprecedented pressure. Working with sick and anxious patients, while at unique risk of being infected, can take a psychological and emotional toll.

If you are feeling tired, emotional or even resentful, you are not alone, says Carin Liebenberg, a physiotherapist at Mediclinic Potchefstroom. “It is a frightening time, facing the uncertainty associated with this global pandemic. So it would be normal to be stressed, anxious and, at times, depressed.”

Now for the good news: there is a lot you can do. (And it’s really easy too.)

Exercise is one of the best, most natural ways to reduce stress levels, explains Liebenberg. “Exercise reduces your body’s levels of the stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, and stimulates the production of endorphins: chemicals in the brain that act as natural painkillers and elevate your mood.”

In a world filled with alarming headlines, optimism is everything – and exercise will keep you hopeful. “Exercise improves oxygen and nutrients delivered to your brain, causing you to concentrate better. It can give you a sense of accomplishment, improve your sense of self-esteem, help you to sleep better and boost your brain power.”

No, you don’t have to spend hours in the gym to feel these benefits. “Climb the stairs instead of taking the elevator, or park your car further away from the entrance and walk. Formal exercise – such as running, cycling and resistance training – is good, but research shows that moving regularly every day can be even better.”

So how do you fit exercise into your busy schedule? Liebenberg says it’s simpler than it seems: get together as a unit, once a day, and dance. “Group exercise routines are a great way to promote a sense of togetherness. They improve motivation, social interaction, keep you accountable – and they’re just plain fun. An activity like this can help staff members cope with stress.”

Did she say dance? Yes. “Dancing is a great overall exercise. It works on most of the big muscle groups and is good aerobic exercise. To work out a dance routine could be fun and interactive, and learning these routines helps distract staff from the bad news around them.”

This will have an immediate effect on the quality of care you are able to give your patients, but it’s just as good for your own health, says Liebenberg, strengthening your heart and lungs and boosting your immune system.

As a general guideline, it is recommended that you participate in light- to moderate-intensity exercise at least 20 to 30 minutes a day, three to five times a week. “Unfortunately, this is not always possible,” says Liebenberg. “My motto is that anything is better than nothing.”