Feeling locked down? Unlock your potential by taking up a sport, advises obstacle course racing (OCR) and trail athlete DUNCAN BARRY 

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about both mental and physical health-related issues – and although Malta fared comparatively well and didn’t procrastinate with too many lockdowns, many people chose to stay at home in a bid to reduce the chances of contracting the virus or out of fear of spreading the virus.

And rightly so, many employees worked from home while many of those who lived alone were deprived of interacting with others.

It was a fluid situation where things changed drastically from day to day and the vast majority of the population watched closely the sad developments with regards to the number of deaths that were registered worldwide daily.

It was a shock to the system, as we would hear stories of people losing friends and relatives to the pandemic.

The author during an OCR training session.The author during an OCR training session.

Some, however, used this time proactively, and decided to change their lifestyle by engaging in sport and following a healthy diet. Others, however, felt hapless and indulged in not so healthy food and didn’t exercise enough. It was a choice we all had, be it to change our lifestyle for the better… or worse.

I, for one, decided to take sport more seriously than ever before although I always had a passion for all things sport. I did this to keep sane.

The rate of mental health conditions increased significantly during the pandemic. Unfortunately, a good number of businesses had to shut down and thus many ended up unemployed. This led many individuals to experience mild to severe depression for the first time in their life.

Interacting with friends wasn’t that safe and, therefore, many turned to home workouts and online fitness sessions.

The worst part of the pandemic, in my opinion, was the fact that most of us had to go into quarantine – not once but twice over. The fact that you feel like a prisoner in your own home can be mentally challenging, especially for children.

Do we need to sit and wait for another disaster to hit us to take up a sport?

The pandemic also heightened the risk among those who were already on the verge of experiencing anxiety conditions.

Nevertheless, in the same way that businesses took the plunge and changed their operational procedures and reinvented themselves, we need to do the same!

It is vital that we protect our mental health and are mentally prepared for stressful and constantly evolving situations, while also following the guidelines of the health authorities to safeguard our physical health.

As a result of the partial lockdowns, many sport competitions were suspended. Yet, many international studies have shown that the mental health status of athletes remained better than that of non-athletes.

Let’s face it: we all know that sport gives a sense of discipline along with a physical and mental health boost. I have met people who claimed that they became obese during the pandemic as they did not exercise at all. Should they be surprised?

So, do we need to sit and wait for another disaster to hit us to take up a sport?

Pre-COVID, I entered a sport that enhances endurance and strength. I am referring to obstacle course racing (OCR) and scenic trail runs. Although I practised many sport disciplines in my life, I never thought I would run on rough terrain for 12 kilometres or run up and down the Għajn Tuffieħa (Riviera Martinique) stairs for 10 times without stopping. I started off with two- or three-kilometre jogs and gradually increased in pace and the length of my runs.

I say this because I know that many get discouraged when they hear of such distance runs. It is great for both one’s physical and mental well-being and I can vouch for it. And if OCR and trails are not up your street, there’s ample sport disciplines one can take up… and remember, it is never too late.

I am writing with one objective: to encourage those who are still procrastinating on whether they should take up a sport to take the plunge. You won’t be sorry as once you start, it becomes addictive and it will be surely a positive step in the right direction for both your mental and physical well-being.

It is pertinent that you do some routine tests and speak to your doctor before engaging in a sport just to ensure that you are in shape and have no health-related issues at stake.

It is amazing how one gains strength and endurance when taking up a sport. There are various sport organisations and clubs one can join. You can also opt to take up a sport individually at your own pace, or with your family members as it creates a bond like no other.

Duncan Barry is the founder of Platoon – Endurance & Strength OCR & Trail Fitness and of Platoon: Military-Inspired Team Building Events. More information about Platoon can be found on Instagram: Platoon_OCRandTrail_ and on the Facebook page Platoon Endurance & Strength.

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