Judy Mulloy’s voice breaks and her eyes well up with tears as she describes how a simple walk in the park and chair yoga has helped her through the pandemic.
“Oh, it’s a happy cry, I assure you,” she said. “My life has changed around. It’s no longer a thing of sadness.”
Mulloy, 56, first turned to physical activity years ago to manage her depression. She says staying active in her hometown of Nelson, B.C., hasn’t eliminated her need for a daily antidepressant.
“But the thing that can boost my mood is to go for a walk. Go for a swim. Do some exercise,” she said.
That tonic began to dry up when the first COVID-19 lockdown hit in 2020 and gyms and recreation centres were shuttered. Mulloy responded to a social media post looking for volunteers for a study that replaced facilities and classes with a commercially available app.
“I’ve not looked back. It’s been amazing,” she said.
Anxiety, depression increased in pandemic
The study was conceived by Eli Puterman, an assistant professor at the School of Kinesiology at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.
“People were suffering. So, we wanted to see whether we can support people,” Puterman said.
His research team recruited over 300 people, gave them a free subscription to an exercise app and divided them into four randomized groups that either did yoga, high-intensity interval training, a combination of the two, or were relegated to a wait list.
Each week, participants completed a standard questionnaire that’s used in the diagnosis and treatment of depression. Using a scale of zero to three, people reported how often they experienced symptoms such as sleeplessness or feeling lonely.
The results were reported in the British Journal of Sports Medicine last fall.
“Everyone dropped in their depression levels,” Puterman said.
WATCH | Judy Mulloy talks about the exercise benefits she experienced:
Judy Mulloy gets emotional explaining how exercise has helped her regain hope and change aspects of her life that were contributing to her depression. 1:40
While none of the participants were screened to determine whether they had been diagnosed as clinically depressed, of those who were active in the study, the ones who reported the most severe symptoms at the start showed the biggest improvement, Puterman said.
“I am surprised by how drastic of an effect it was,” he said.
Past studies show similar results
Puterman’s results are only the latest to link physical activity and mood. “There’s been enough studies,” said Vancouver psychiatrist Dr. Ron Remick.
Remick thinks physical activity can be as effective as some more common treatments for depression, such as psychotherapy or antidepressants. But while it’s true that research going back decades demonstrates the ability of exercise to measurably reduce symptoms of depression and stave off relapse, on its own, it may not be enough to treat severe depression, a complex disease that can have multiple causes.
Remick’s advocacy for movement as medicine comes from his own experience. Seven years ago, as medical director of the Mood Disorders Association of British Columbia he pioneered a weekly program of low-impact movement for his patients called Jump Step.
It involved outdoor walks, floor exercises and cardio routines combined with a group medical visit.
When the pandemic struck, the program went virtual. Participants were given the only equipment they’d need: a yoga mat and an exercise band. Jump Step now runs for eight weeks, four times a year. Its results have drawn attention from the B.C. government, which was interested in potentially implementing it provincewide.
“Much like our earlier research, it has continued to show that a significant number of people who do a program like this have significant improvement in their depressive symptoms,” Remick said.
‘A break from all of that chatter’
Michael Sarvari leads the weekly classes. Sarvari draws on his own experience as someone who wrestled with severe depression for most of his life until one day, he says, he crawled out of bed and convinced himself to do a pushup. The next day he tried two, and so on.
“When you’re depressed, your mind is so busy with negative thoughts and chatter,” Sarvari said.
“When you kind of take yourself out of your mind and into your body doing physical things, you get a break from all of that chatter. It kind of creates that calm within yourself.”
Sarvari says it’s hard to overstate the benefits of basic, regular physical activity
“I could be homeless because I wasn’t able to support myself. I wasn’t able to work,” he said. “I would be in a very dark place and possibly not alive because I was suicidal for many years.”
WATCH | Dr. Ron Remick outlines why a little movement goes a long way:
Ron Remick, medical director for the Mood Disorders Association of British Columbia, explains how a small amount of moderate exercise can help tackle depression and reduce your risk of some diseases. 0:50
Researchers are hoping to ease that kind of personal suffering while acknowledging there’s a payoff for the wider public if they’re successful. A decade ago, the World Economic Forum and the Harvard School of Public Health forecast the global cost of mental health conditions by 2030 to be over $7 trillion a year.
“Changes occur slowly in medicine even when the evidence is there for a long long time,” said Remick.
Unlike a pill, prescribing exercise has to be tailored to a patient’s abilities by doctors who know how to motivate people.
Puterman says while there is ample evidence to support his broader findings, some research gaps remain. Most of the participants in his study were white and maintained their jobs during the pandemic. He plans to focus a future study on more diverse and vulnerable communities.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Friday published recommendations by its group of independent experts on a smallpox vaccine that limit its use to only people who work closely with viruses such as monkeypox.
The Jynneos vaccine, made by Bavarian Nordic, will be available for certain healthcare workers and laboratory personnel at a time when monkeypox infections has spread in Europe, United States and beyond.
The vaccine was approved in the United States in 2019 to prevent smallpox and monkeypox in high risk adults aged 18 and older.
CDC officials earlier this week said they were in the process of releasing some doses of the Jynneos vaccine for people in contact with known monkeypox patients.
Officials said there were over 100 million doses of an older smallpox vaccine called ACAM2000, made by Emergent BioSolutions , which has significant side effects.
Monkeypox is a mild viral infection that is endemic in certain parts of Africa, but the recent outbreak in countries where the virus doesn’t usually spread has raised concerns.
So far, there are about 300 confirmed or suspected cases in around 20 countries where the virus was not previously circulating. The World Health Organization has called for quick action from countries to contain the Monkeypox spread.
The CDC said its experts’ recommendations are meant for clinical laboratory personnel performing diagnostic tests for orthopoxviruses such as smallpox and monkeypox, laboratory people doing research on the viruses and healthcare workers who administer the ACAM2000 vaccine or care for patients infected with orthopoxviruses.
The publication of the vote by the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, which took place in November last year, formalizes the recommendations.
Both ACAM2000 and Jynneos are available for prevention of orthopoxvirus infections among at-risk people, the CDC said on Friday. (Reporting by Manas Mishra and Amruta Khandekar in Bengaluru; Editing by Krishna Chandra Eluri and Shailesh Kuber)
Advocates warn that stigma could pose a public health threat as a cluster of monkeypox cases stokes concern in the queer community.
Health authorities are investigating more than two dozen confirmed monkeypox cases in Canada as part of an unprecedented outbreak of the rare disease that seldom spreads outside Africa.
Twenty-five infections have been confirmed in Quebec and one in Ontario, the Public Health Agency of Canada said Thursday, predicting the tally will rise in coming days.
While everyone is susceptible to the virus, clusters of cases have been reported among men who have sex with men, officials say.
For some LGBTQ advocates, this raises the spectre of sexual stigmatization that saw gay and bisexual men scapegoated for the spread of HIV-AIDS in the 1980s. Others say the early detection of the monkeypox cases by sexual health clinics shows how the queer community has mobilized to dismantle shame and promote safe practices.
Canada’s deputy chief public health officer said he’s mindful of the potential for stigma and discrimination, reiterating that the virus’s spread isn’t limited to any specific group or sexual orientation.
The disease can be contracted through close contact with a sick person, including but not limited to sexual activity, Dr. Howard Njoo told a news conference Thursday. Scientists are still working to determine what’s driving cross-border transmission of the virus.
But as early signs suggest the virus is currently circulating in certain communities, authorities are working with partners on the ground to raise awareness among those at elevated risk of exposure, Njoo said.
Quebec officials said both transparency and sensitivity are needed to contain the outbreak and provide care to those infected.
“Stigmatization is really a big challenge in controlling this disease, so we’re trying to fight it,” Montreal public health official Dr. Genevieve Bergeron told reporters Thursday. “It’s important to understand that our enemy is the virus, it’s not the people who are affected.”
Aaron Purdie, executive director of the Health Initiative for Men in B.C., said he worries that the spread of stigma could present a greater threat than the disease itself, citing the lasting legacy of the panic and prejudice around HIV-AIDS in the early years of the epidemic.
“Stigma spreads like a virus,” Purdie said. “Yes, it’s treatable. Yes, it’s containable. But it spreads nonetheless.”
Beyond its corrosive societal harms, stigma can deter people from accessing testing and treatment, as they fear how a diagnosis could jeopardize their social standing, employment and safety, Purdie said.
These concerns are particularly potent among LGBTQ people given their long history of discrimination by the health-care system, said Purdie. That’s why it’s vital that public health agencies assist queer activists, educators and clinicians in leading the monkeypox response.
“We all hold trauma from our histories, and the reality is when something like monkeypox comes in, it scares people,” he said.
“We need to decrease the stigma. Because if we don’t, people aren’t able to fully express their identities, and … (that has the) downstream effect of making the community sicker.”
Dane Griffiths, director of the Gay Men’s Sexual Health Alliance of Ontario, said stigma thrives in silence, so one of the most effective strategies to combat it is to provide timely and accurate information without “shame or blame.”
The alliance is working to do just that by sharing the latest developments about the virus, encouraging people to pay attention to the risks and take steps to protect themselves.
Griffiths said obscuring the risk the virus poses to the queer community could prompt people to drop their guard.
“I wouldn’t want that to be an opportunity for the community to tune this out,” said Griffiths.
Instead, the queer community should be commended for helping authorities track the virus’s spread by getting tested at sexual health clinics in such high numbers, which could be a factor in why so many cases have been identified in men who have sex with men, Griffiths said.
“There are gay and bisexual men who have been showing up around the world at clinics and doctor’s offices and are being seen and therefore counted,” said Griffiths. “That’s a good thing, and it’s actually to be encouraged within our community.”
More than two years into the pandemic, University of Toronto bioethicist Kerry Bowman said he hopes people have realized infectious disease doesn’t discriminate on the basis of identity, so we don’t see a resurgence of the stigma and bigotry that pervaded our initial responses to both COVID-19 and HIV-AIDS.
“This is kind of a litmus test to see if we’ve moved on as a society, if we’re capable of looking at illness without … the cruelty of laying stigma on people,” said Bowman.
– with files from Jacob Serebrin in Montreal
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 27, 2022.
Privacy & Cookies Policy
Necessary cookies are absolutely essential for the website to function properly. This category only includes cookies that ensures basic functionalities and security features of the website. These cookies do not store any personal information.
Any cookies that may not be particularly necessary for the website to function and is used specifically to collect user personal data via analytics, ads, other embedded contents are termed as non-necessary cookies. It is mandatory to procure user consent prior to running these cookies on your website.