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Early activity keeps mental health issues at bay

Image of person exercising in the morning
Kike Vega | Unsplash

News round-up by Conor D'Andrade

A new study has revealed that regular activity routines improve healthy ageing and mental health for older adults.

The study included 1,800 participants aged over 65 from the US who were required to wear accelerometers to measure movements indicating activity for 7 days.

In addition, they were asked to complete questionnaires to assess cognitive function and symptoms of depression.

Analysis of the data collected revealed that 37.6% of participants got up early in the morning, and carried out activities throughout the day with consistent routines.

Overall, these participants scored lowest on symptoms of depression and highest on tests of cognitive function, suggesting they were happy and cognitively healthy.

Similarly, 32.6% of participants also had consistent daily patterns but for less time each day – 13.4 hours compared with 15 hours – due to getting up later or settling in earlier.

However, these participants displayed more symptoms of depression and scored lower on cognitive tests.

The remaining 29.8% had inconsistent and erratic patterns of activity throughout the day, and scored the highest for symptoms of depression and lowest on tests of cognitive function.

“There's something about getting going early, staying active all day and following the same routine each day that seems to be protecting older adults," said lead author of the study, Dr. Stephen Smagula. "What's exciting about these findings is that activity patterns are under voluntary control, which means that making intentional changes to one's daily routine could improve health and wellness.

“Our findings suggest that activity pattern disruption is very common and associated with health problems in older adults. The relationship is likely bi-directional, so the good news is we think that simple changes – things everyone can try – can restore regular activity patterns and doing so may improve health."

Long COVID symptoms significantly affect mental health

A newly published survey from Ireland suggests that long COVID, or post-acute sequelae of COVID-19 (PASC), significantly reduces quality of life and mental health.

The survey received responses from 988 participants with self-reported diagnoses of COVID (81%) or suspected COVID (9%).

89% of respondents said that their health had not returned to pre-COVID levels and there was a large range in the number of symptoms still experienced by participants, from 0 to 33, for an average of 12 months.

A large proportion of respondents reported significant impacts caused by PASC, with 33% reporting moderate to high levels of depression and 38% reporting that their ability to work has been severely restricted.

Overall, these results are consistent with other studies from around the globe that have also found patients with PASC report prolonged health issues with a range of symptoms that significantly reduce quality of life and mental health.

COVID exacerbates mental health effects of climate disasters

People hit by climate disasters suffered worse mental health outcomes due to COVID than those not yet affected by a climate disaster.

Survey data from the Texas Flood Registry from April 2018 to October 2020 included people impacted by Hurricane Harvey and other similar flooding disasters, such as Tropical Storm Imelda.

Alongside this, surveys measuring the impact of COVID-19 from April 2020 containing similar questions (framed towards COVID rather than flooding) were also analysed.

Overall, 3000 participants had completed both surveys.

Results showed that mental health and economic stress experienced during Hurricane Harvey significantly affected how individuals coped during the pandemic to a higher degree than property damage and flooding.

It also revealed that different groups were affected disproportionately: non-Hispanic white respondents reported significantly fewer difficulties in paying rent or bills during the pandemic compared with Hispanic and black respondents.

“This study underscores the cumulative effect of economic stress and mental health impacts on an individual's well-being when exposed to a succession of multiple crises," said Marie Lynn Miranda, Department of Applied and Computational Mathematics and Statistics professor at the University of Notre Dame.

"To see a four- or five-fold increase in these statistical models is very concerning, and the time between events highlights the cumulating and enduring impacts of these stressors."

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