Decreased physical activity during the epidemic was associated with poor physical and mental health
According to an international study published in Frontiers in PsychologyPeople around the world have reported changes in their levels of physical activity, well-being, and eating habits during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. Decreased physical activity during the epidemic was associated with poor physical and mental health. Lack of exercise has also been linked with perceptions of weight gain and less sleep.
More than a thousand individuals from several countries with different containment measures participated in an online survey that explored changes in physical activity, eating, sleep, physical and mental health and well-being during the early lockdown phases of the COVID-19 pandemic. The study was conducted in collaboration between the School of Sport and Health Sciences at the University of Jyvaskyla, University of Wolverhampton and University of Northampton in the United Kingdom.
Country comparisons revealed large differences in physical health, with Finnish participants reporting higher values and participants residing in the UK indicating poor health.
There was significant variation in the participants’ physical activity. Some individuals reported a high increase in physical activity while others reported a significant decrease.
“Increased physical activity was associated with better physical health as assessed over the past week, along with increased well-being and sleep,” says Sports and Exercise Psychology lecturer Montsey Ruiz from the School of Sport and Health Sciences at the University of Jyväskylä, Finland. “In contrast, decreased physical activity was associated with lower mental health, represented by more personal and emotional problems, and a sign of overeating and weight.”
Participants living in Latin American countries considered that they had poor mental health, compared to South Koreans who indicated that they were less affected by personal or emotional problems. Filipino participants reported higher sleep and eating scores compared to other countries.
“Our findings indicate that regardless of country of residence or age, participants who reported reduced physical activity experienced poor physical and mental health as well as decreased well-being,” Ruiz says. Lack of exercise was also associated with perceptions of weight gain and lack of sleep.
To reduce the spread of SARS-CoV-2, a range of containment measures have been implemented, including restricting the movement of people, in many countries. As a result, changes in people’s behavior have been observed, such as well documented cases of purchasing and storing household items.
“As containment measures related to COVID-19 continue, our findings highlight the importance of exercise in maintaining good physical and mental health,” Ruiz says. “As such, we encourage individuals to find ways to incorporate physical activity into their day wherever possible.”