Health and Fitness

Battle stress by tending to the body and mind during the coronavirus pandemic


Exercise and maintaining social connections is necessary to help reduce stress and anxiety in the midst of the global coronavirus pandemic, Hawaii’s mental health and fitness experts say.

As government officials remind the public of hand-washing, avoiding crowds and social distancing to slow the spread of COVID-19, mental health and fitness experts say exercise and staying socially connected are just as crucial to keeping people’s minds and bodies healthy during this precarious time.

“We’re social creatures … The more we isolate, the more anxiety we have,” said Sondra Leiggi Brandon, systems director of behavioral health services at The Queen’s Medical Center.

There are ways to stay socially connected with family and friends while staying at home, she said, such as communicating face-to-face via Skype as well as Facetime for iPhone users.

Google Duo and WhatsApp are also available for both iPhone and Android users.

For those seeking services, health care providers offer therapy via telemedicine. Leiggi Brandon said telemedicine has long been used, especially for residents on the neighbor islands.

Another resource is an online emotional support website, “7 Cups of Tea,” where volunteers actively listen and chat with individuals who need someone to talk to.

Subscription-based apps such as “Headspace” and “Personal Zen” are also available to help individuals manage high stress and anxiety.

Dr. William “Bill” Haning, professor of psychiatry at the University of Hawaii’s John A. Burn’s School of Medicine, also said “telephone therapy” as well as “electronic communication” are ways to ease anxiety by checking in one another.

It could simply be a quick phone call to say hello or a conversation to vent any frustrations. “Sometimes that’s all it takes,” Haning said.

Dr. Garrett Halweg, a psychiatrist in downtown Honolulu, said there has been an increase in people seeking services to cope with coronavirus-related concerns.

Stress is triggered when people feel they have no control, he said. “A pandemic presents a very unique circumstance that there is some unforeseen force that is facing humanity.”

Staying socially connected aids in emotional and physical health by boosting oxytocin, a hormone that promotes social bonds and well-being. “(Oxytocin) is the natural counter to cortisol, the stress hormone,” Halweg said.

With temporary gym closures at 24 Hour Fitness and UFC Gym, experts say fitness enthusiasts may turn to exercise videos on YouTube and Facebook.

Dawn Kattengell, a fitness instructor at UFC Gym in Honolulu, advised people to ensure that exercise formats are led by licensed or certified instructors who are knowledgeable about proper form.

Kattengell and Tahia Lang, area group manager for all UFC Gyms on Oahu, suggest people can also go “back to the basics” with running and walking outside while maintaining social distancing of 6 feet from other people.

Kattengell, who has taught group fitness class for 36 years at various gyms, has been taking longer walks with her dog around her Waialae-Kahala neighborhood for exercise. She also maintains a daily routine that include practicing choreography for her “dance party” classes and chores.

Lang said implementing a daily routine is important during this time of uncertainty.

Nutrition and hydration are also essential, she said. “Water is the most common nutritional deficiency in the American population as well as the most important nutrient in the body. Water makes up 55-60% of our total body mass.”

Dehydration can lead to fatigue, anxiety, irritability, depression, cramps, cravings and headaches.

Proper hydration is necessary to improve oxygen delivery to cells, transport nutrients, moisten oxygen for easier breathing and regulate body temperature, Lang added. It also helps flush toxins, lubricates joints and empowers the body’s natural healing process.

Egan Inoue, a retired mixed martial artist fighter and renowned jiu-jitsu champion who owns a fitness company that holds popular bootcamp classes, has also temporarily closed his gyms in Kailua, Aiea and Honolulu. During the closure, he plans to livestream classes on Facebook for gym members and is considering posting videos on YouTube that would be accessible to everyone.

“Exercise is the number one thing to keep your immune system high,” Inoue said.


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