It has become a common sight since the Federal Government-enforced lockdown commenced: scores of Nigerians; the young, middle-aged and even the old; taking to the streets in the morning and in the evening to not only jog; but also to work out and take part in aerobics and fitness sessions.
In Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial and entertainment capital, it has become a daily routine.
From the sedate and affluent streets of Lekki, Ikoyi and Victoria Island through the more ubiquitous urban residences; such as Magodo, Gbagada, Festac and Ikeja and to the densely populated sections of the mainland; including Ejigbo, Apapa, Akowonjo, Agege, Ikotun, Ogba and many others; the growing number of fitness enthusiasts is a sight to behold.
As a matter of fact, a group of fitness buffs had recently taken over a major part of the Gbagada expressway. It took the intervention of the Police and other authorities; who had to resort to apprehending them for flouting the social distancing guidelines; to get them off the highway.
In Abuja and Ogun State, two other states in which President Muhammadu Buhari had initially declared a two-week lockdown; the case is not much different either.
And with the President’s announcement of a further two-week extension to the lockdown; more converts are being added to the fitness regime on a daily basis.
Checks by our correspondents in other states across the country; in which state governors had also imposed lockdowns/some form of restrictions; also reveal an obvious surge in the number of persons engaged in daily physical fitness activities.
The reasons adduced for this noticeable increase in the number of persons embracing physical activity are diverse. Among these is the need to stay mentally sharp and alert; to maintain fitness and a healthy weight as well as to ensure that; the long hours spent at home is consumed through productive activities.
However, investigations by 1st News has identified one more reason for the surge: depression.
‘‘It is a difficult period for most Nigerians, especially members of the older generation. A lot of people in the older segment of the population have underlying health challenges; and are prone to depression, especially with the ongoing hardship and downturn in the economy occasioned by the lockdown,’’ began a 62-year old retiree who chose to speak on condition of anonymity.
‘‘As a result, regular exercise is one way to ward off these feelings of gloom and potential depression. In fact, my doctor personally advised me to indulge more in these physical activities; since I am unable to move around or go out anymore as a result of the lockdown.’’
The submission above was corroborated by another female respondent who spoke to 1st News; while participating in an aerobics session organized by residents in one of the residential estates in Festac.
‘‘For me, it (the lockdown) has been quite challenging. Unlike people who work in the corporate sector who can still do some work at home on their laptops, I render services. However, my shop has been under lock and key for over two weeks now. So, I sit at home for long hours every day, watching TV. I cannot even allow my friends and neighbour come over due to the need to maintain social distancing; as well as limit physical contacts with other people.
‘‘It has been a very depressing experience for me. Recently, I noticed that a lot of people in my neighbourhood have started engaging in jogging and other fitness activities in the morning and evening. So, I started joining in and I must confess; it has gone a long way in helping me cope with the depressive feelings.’’
However, the feelings of depression and despondency is not limited only to those in the older generation.
For Michael Nwogu, a software engineer in a new generation bank; the feelings of depression he uses regular exercise to ward off comes from witnessing the hardship and suffering of people around him occasioned by the lockdown.
‘‘The lockdown has actually been an interesting period for me as it has exposed the depth of poverty in Nigeria. Usually, I leave for work early in the morning and get back very late when things were normal. However, with the lockdown, I have had to stay at home more and better understand my neighbourhood. It has been an eye-opener.
‘‘The number of families struggling to feed during this period, in itself, has been a source of depression. Two days ago, a stranger who lives in my area stopped me on the way and pleaded for some money to buy food for his kids. I wept when I got back home because not only did the development sadden me; but I also realized the pains and pride the man must have swallowed for him to summon the courage to approach me.
‘‘You go on social media and see people fighting over loaves of bread and other palliatives being delivered by the government and you get even more depressed. So, for me, exercise is a perfect way of warding off these dark, gloomy feelings and staying cheerful and hopeful,’’ Nwogu intoned.
Indeed, research has shown that exercise is an effective antidote for symptoms or feelings of depression.
According to Harvard Medical School, exercising starts a biological cascade of events that results in many health benefits; such as protecting against heart disease and diabetes, improving sleep, and lowering blood pressure. High-intensity exercise releases the body’s feel-good chemicals called endorphins, resulting in the “runner’s high” that joggers report.
But for most of us, it contends, the real value is in low-intensity exercise sustained over time. That kind of activity spurs the release of proteins called neurotrophic or growth factors; which cause nerve cells to grow and make new connections. The improvement in brain function makes you feel better.
“In people who are depressed, neuroscientists have noticed that the hippocampus in the brain; the region that helps regulate mood—is smaller. Exercise supports nerve cell growth in the hippocampus, improving nerve cell connections, which helps relieve depression,” explains Dr. -Michael Craig Miller, assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.