Covid-19 has had a profound impact on our daily lives with many children having been out of school since March and many of us working from home. Throughout this time numerous organisations have been conducting research into the implications of lockdown and the pandemic on a variety of factors, including physical activity.
Children and Young People
Promisingly 93% of children are doing some physical activity but just one in five are achieving Chief Medical Officer Guidelines (one hour a day for 5-18 year olds) which is a dramatic drop compared to before lockdown when 46.8% were active for an hour every day. However, it is important to note that physical activity has become a point of contention between young people and their parents due to differing views on the activities young people should be undertaking with parents preferring their children to be outside whereas some young people want to take part in home workouts.
During this time there seems to be a positive impact on girls and their activity, with 16% saying they are more active during lockdown compared to 11% of boys. Girls are also enjoying being active more than boys at this time which is a reversal of the normal picture. Also, children from BAME backgrounds (excluding Chinese) are more likely than their White counterparts to have increased their activity levels. However, BAME children are twice as likely to be doing no physical activity, 12% compared to 6% of White children.
Mental wellbeing has also become a key focus for many young people with 100% of young people within one project viewing a focus on their mental health as the priority at this time.
“Quarantine has given me a chance to work on my mental health and improve it, as school was too stressful”
Disability/Long-Term Health Conditions
Covid-19 has affected those with long term health conditions (LTHCs) differently to those without a health condition and whilst lockdown restrictions have eased they remain less likely to be physically active. In fact, four in ten people with LTHCs are doing less physical activity now than before lockdown. They are also less likely to feel they have ability to be active or to use exercise to manage their mental or physical health. Guilt is also a factor, with people feeling guilty for both wanting, and not wanting, to exercise and over the course of the pandemic guilt about not exercising has risen.
Further research has found differences with regards to doing no activity; with a 10% gap between those with and without long term physical health conditions and a 13% gap between those with a diagnosed mental health condition and those without. When looking at whether individuals had left their home in the previous day to engage in moderate or high intensity activity, such as running, cycling or swimming for at least 30 minutes, there was a clear gap between those with physical and mental health conditions and those without. In fact for both those with a physical health condition and a diagnosed metal health condition the proportion of people achieving 30 minutes a day is half that of those without a condition.
Women & Girls
In line with activity levels outside of lockdown a gender gap is clearly apparent with a 4% gap between men and women taking part in 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity the previous day. However, there is little difference between men and women when it comes to doing no activity.
The prioritisation of physical activity by government has resonated strongly with women with 46% saying it has become more of a priority in their life. In particular the greater flexibility within the day has made it easier to incorporate exercise into daily lives. However, the amplification of gender stereotypical behaviour has meant that a third of women couldn’t prioritise being active due to doing things for others. The pandemic has been felt more significantly by mothers, many of whom have lost childcare provision and consequently have less free time. For older women the media narrative about coronavirus has made them hesitant to go outside.
When looking at activities on the previous day, moderate and high intensity activities for at least 30 minutes were most common amongst younger adults (18-30 year olds) and declined with age. However, when looking at gentle exercise, over 60’s were the most likely to have taken part, 43% had spent 30 minutes walking or doing gentle exercise compared to roughly a third in all other age groups. Furthermore, no exercise was most common amongst 46-59 year olds where over one in four did no physical activity on the previous day.
Whilst the research summarised to date does not cover all demographics and experiences we will continue to update our research pages as new data and reports are released.
Sport England have also commissioned longitudinal research into the impact of the pandemic, you can keep up to date with the weekly results here.
More information on all the research used in this article can be found here.
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