Findings from a new study suggest remotely supervised training sessions are more effective than face-to-face exercise classes during the covid-19 pandemic. The results of the study appeared in the journal Research in psychiatry.
Researchers from the University of Sao Paulo (USP) in Brazil studied the effects of regular exercise on the physical and mental health of 344 volunteers during the pandemic. The study compared the effectiveness of three techniques: in-person sessions led by a fitness instructor, sessions with an online but unsupervised instructor, and remotely supervised sessions by an instructor via video call.
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The two types of professionally supervised sessions had the strongest effects on physical and mental health. According to the researchers, this was due to the possibility of increasing the intensity of the exercises over time. To their surprise, remotely supervised sessions were more effective than face-to-face sessions. Sedentary subjects served as controls.
“The results underline the advantages of both approaches, with the instructor online or physically present, compared to a sedentary lifestyle. However, the physical and mental benefits have a lot to do with a safe and progressive increase in the intensity of the exercises. it only occurred when they were supervised by a professional. Interestingly, remote supervision via video call was more efficient. The difference was small but statistically significant, “Carla da Silva Batista, the latest author of the study, told Agencia FAPESP.
Batista is a researcher at the School of Physical Education and Sports of the University of São Paulo (EEFE-USP). The study was supported by FAPESP. The volunteers were selected from different age and income groups and came from different parts of Brazil. Some had symptoms of depression.
Remote supervised participants, who trained using Pilates, Crossfit, yoga, dance, and aerobics, exercised more intensely than those without supervision. “Increasing the intensity of supervised online sessions was of paramount importance during the pandemic,”; said Batista. “About half of the participants, or 55 percent, performed high-intensity exercise before the pandemic, but the proportion dropped to 30 percent once the lockdown began.”
Other research shows that intense exercise increases longevity, reduces the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, and is associated with a reduced risk of 26 types of cancer. “We don’t know exactly why training with remote supervision via video call achieves better results than when the instructor is physically present,” said Batista. “Participants likely felt the discomfort of wearing a mask that hindered their performance during the pandemic.”
Other reasons could include the possibility that remotely supervised participants were more motivated. “They did exercises safely and at home, but with supervision and without having to wear a mask. They didn’t have to worry about spreading the virus, so the instructor may have felt free to increase the intensity of the exercises safely, without risking injury or discomfort.” , Batista said.
To assess participants’ physical and mental health, in July-August 2020, researchers applied validated online questionnaires known as the International Physical Activity Questionnaire – Short Form (IPAQ-SF) and Montgomery-Asberg Depression Rating Scale – Self-Rated (MADRS – S).
The latter covers nine elements: apparent and reported sadness, inner tension, reduced sleep and appetite, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, inability to hear, and pessimistic and suicidal thoughts. The researchers also checked the participants’ exercise routines, who trained for at least 30 minutes and at most 180 minutes per day, for a total of between 150 and 900 minutes per week.
“About half were depressed before the pandemic. Our results showed that these people also improved their mental health score,” Batista said.
Previous studies had shown that people who exercised moderately or vigorously for more than 30 minutes each day during the block ran less risk of depression and avoided the problems resulting from a sedentary lifestyle, such as stress, lack of sleep and obesity, all factors that can be associated with metabolic alterations.
“We already knew about the physiological benefits of exercising while being forced to stay at home, but our study innovated by demonstrating the effectiveness of remote supervised exercise classes. This was not clear to us before we did the study. The approach it has proved beneficial, especially for the period we are living in, “concluded Batista.