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The Margin: Adele is singing the praises of exercise — here’s why anyone with anxiety should listen

Hello? Adele says we’re looking at her weight loss in entirely the wrong way.

The Grammy-winning singer-songwriter is making headlines for her long-awaited fourth album “30” expected to drop this month, as well as her slimmer silhouette — much to her chagrin.

So much ink has been spilled over speculation about what’s behind her weight loss, such as pressure from the music industry, or as an act of “revenge” after getting divorced. But really, her mental health was her muse. “It was because of my anxiety. Working out, I would just feel better,” the 33-year-old told British Vogue in a cover story that’s gone viral.

“It was never about losing weight, it was always about becoming strong and giving myself as much time every day without my phone,” she continued. “I got quite addicted to it. I work out two or three times a day.”

The vital role of exercise in maintaining a healthy weight, which staves off chronic health conditions such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease, can’t be overstated. But Adele is onto something here when she talks about turning the focus away from just what someone sees on the scale or in images.

A recent study published in Frontiers in Psychiatry found that exercise can reduce the risk of developing anxiety over decades. The observational study tracked almost 400,000 people who trained for the world’s annual largest long-distance cross-country ski race between 1989 and 2010. They found that the skiers, with “a more physically active lifestyle,” had an almost 60% lower risk of developing anxiety disorders over 21 years compared to non-skiers during the same period.

Read more: Exercise could reduce the risk of developing anxiety by almost 60%, researchers find

A 2019 study of hundreds of thousands of people published in JAMA Psychiatry also found evidence that physical activity may help prevent depression.

And plenty of people could benefit from this particular exercise boost. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America reports that anxiety disorders affect 40 million U.S. adults each year, and 10% of the global population. It recommends using physical activity to manage stress and anxiety for several reasons. Exercise can simply distract from whatever it is that someone is anxious about by forcing them to redirect their attention, for example. And working up a sweat has been shown to ease muscle tension and release endorphins that can boost one’s mood.

The past year and change has been a perfect storm of anxiety triggers for many people, from the pandemic and the toll it’s taken on actual lives and livelihoods, to the contentious presidential election and racial reckoning that rocked the country in 2020. One in five adults said they were experiencing high levels of psychological distress in a study earlier this year, including anxiety, depression, sleeplessness, loneliness and physical distress symptoms. And about four in 10 adults have reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorders throughout the pandemic.

All of this worry has also weighed on waistlines. The American Psychological Association reported earlier this year that 61% of American adults recorded undesired weight gain or loss since the coronavirus outbreak began early last year; two in five put on 29 pounds on average, and one in 10 said they gained more than 50 pounds. The report also found that one in three Americans was sleeping less during the pandemic, and more than half of parents said the level of stress in their lives has increased, which can factor into weight gain.

Pediatricians have also warned that the disruption of in-person schooling, sports and other activities caused children to gain weight, too.

Related: ‘The Covid 15?’ If only — this is how much weight the average person actually gained during the pandemic

And also: Weight gain during COVID-19, especially among younger consumers, is driving changes in the way Americans eat and dress

That doesn’t mean you have to become a CrossFit junkie overnight to reap the benefits of being active. Mental health experts recommend starting with free, daily activities, such as taking a walk outside or following an online yoga video, to ease into an exercise program while also easing anxiety during the pandemic. For more tips taking care of your mental health, check out these tips and resources.

And find more expert advice on squeezing in exercise and finding ways to eat healthier and manage your weight here.

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