NC State researchers find ‘unforgiving cycle’ pandemic’s impact on mental, physical health


RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – The past year and a half feels more like a decade passing by in a foggy haze.

The pandemic has taken a mighty toll on our mental and physical health.

Yes, they are tied together.

Lindsey Haynes-Maslow, assistant professor and extension specialist in the Department of Agricultural and Human Sciences at North Carolina State University, and Annie Hardison-Moody helped survey more than 4,000 people in five states, including North Carolina, about their mental health amid the pandemic.

Hardison-Moody is also an assistant professor in the Department of Agricultural and Human Sciences at N.C. State.

“I think the one finding that surprised me was this revealing of this unforgiving cycle of once your mental health starts to deteriorate it really makes it more difficult to be physically active and then when you’re not physically active, then that actually hurts your mental health even more,” said Haynes-Maslow.

Their work is published in the journal Preventive Medicine Reports and is called Examining the relationship between physical activity and mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic across five U.S. States.

They found households that earn less than $50,000 a year have had a harder time and higher stress levels just doing the basics.

“We had low-income moms not wanting to bring their children with them into the grocery store because they were worried their child might catch the virus,” said Haynes-Maslow.

That same group of income earners was also 1.46 times less likely to maintain their pre-pandemic levels of physical activity as compared to households earning more than $50,000 per year.

Surprisingly, people in rural areas have been getting more exercise than those in the city.

“Where they felt safe walking around, being able to social distance and having this kind of sense of space to be able to be outdoors safely,” Hardison-Moody.

The study showed regardless of race/ethnicity or income level, the more physical activity the better your mental health.

Haynes-Marlow said infrastructure needs, like access to walking trails, do make a difference.

“We really just need a playbook for how are we going to address this right now. Going forward this is not going to be the last public health emergency that we deal with.”

But it can be a situation that may come with a few silver linings.

“Whether it be conflict or a pandemic or other situations where people are going through great stress and trauma they can be times for transformation and growth,” said Hardison-Moody.

Co-authors of the work include Michelle Grocke-Dewey of Montana State University, Eliza Webber and Justin Shanks of Montana State University; Lauri Andress of West Virginia University; Bailey Houghtaling of Louisiana State University; Megan Patton-Lopez of Western Oregon University; and Carmen Byker-Shanks of both Montana State University and the Gretchen Swanson Center for Nutrition.

The work was done with support from the National Institutes of Health.

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