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How the Pandemic Is Changing Our Exercise Habits


Oct. 7, 2020 New York Times

Are you exercising more or less since the coronavirus pandemic began?

According to a new study that focused on physical activity in the United Kingdom, most of us — not surprisingly — have been less physically active since the pandemic and its waves of lockdowns and quarantines began. Some people, however, seem to be exercising as much or more than before, and surprisingly, a hefty percentage of those extra-active people are older than 65. The findings have not yet been peer reviewed, but they add to a mounting body of evidence from around the globe that the coronavirus is remaking how we move, although not necessarily in the ways we may have anticipated.

The pandemic lockdowns and other containment measures during the past six months and counting have altered almost every aspect of our lives, affecting our work, family, education, moods, expectations, social interactions and health.

None of us should be surprised, then, to learn that the pandemic seems also to be transforming whether, when and how we exercise. The nature of those changes, though, remains rather muddled and mutable, according to a number of recent studies. In one, researchers report that during the first few weeks after pandemic-related lockdowns began in the United States and other nations, Google searches related to the word “exercise” spiked and remained elevated for months.

And many people seem to have been using the information they gleaned from those searches by actually exercising more. An online survey conducted in 139 countries by RunRepeat, a company that reviews running shoes, found that a majority of people who had been exercising before the health crisis began reported exercising more often in the early weeks after. A separate survey of almost 1,500 older Japanese adults found that most said they had been quite inactive in the early weeks of lockdowns, but by June, they were walking and exercising as much as ever.

A gloomier June study, however, using anonymized data from more than 450,000 users of a smartphone step-counting app, concluded that, around the world, steps declined substantially after lockdowns began. Average daily steps declined by about 5.5 percent during the first 10 days of a nation’s pandemic lockdowns and by about 27 percent by the end of the first month.

But most of these studies and surveys relied on people recalling their exercise habits, which can be unreliable, or looked at aggregate results, without digging into differences by age, socioeconomic group, gender and other factors, which might turn up telling variations in how people’s exercise habits might have changed during the pandemic.

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