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COVID-19 Anxiety and Changes in Physical Activity

Results from “Perceived anxiety and physical activity behaviour changes during the early stages of COVID-19 restrictions in community-dwelling adults in Canada: a cross-sectional study”

McCormack GR, Doyle-Baker PK, Petersen JA & Ghoneim D

COVID-19 and Daily Routines


During the on-going pandemic Canadians have had to take steps to reduce the spread of COVID-19. This public health emergency response included non-essential travel restrictions, practicing of physical distancing, as well as self-isolating and quarantine requirements (1). Additionally, this response required intermittent closures of non-essential businesses and facilities such as education, daycare, and public recreation. While this response has been necessary, restrictions such as these impact peoples’ health (2). During the pandemic studies have shown that people reported experiencing greater anxiety (3, 4,), decreased physical activity (5) and individuals who have perceived a decline in their mental health reported lower weekly physical activity (5). A recent study conducted in Calgary (Canada) investigated physical activity and sedentary behaviour patterns of adults during the pandemic, and the associations between COVID-19-related anxiety and these patterns.


COVID-19 Anxiety, Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour


A random sample of 1047 adults completed an online questionnaire between April and June of 2020. Participants were asked about their anxiety towards COVID-19 as well as their perceived physical activity and sedentary behaviour changes since the onset of the pandemic. While most participants (67%) reported being not at all or somewhat anxious about COVID-19, roughly one third (33%) of the participants reported being very or extremely anxious about COVID-19, and regardless of anxiety most participants (95%) perceived that they had increased physical distancing during the first months of the pandemic. Participants also perceived that they had increased their sedentary behaviour due to COVID-19 and reported changes in their physical activity during the pandemic. Notably, these perceived changes differed by anxiety towards COVID-19. Participants reporting lower anxiety towards COVID-19 increased their time spent outdoors, while those reporting higher anxiety decreased their time spent outdoors, despite outdoor activity recommendations by the Canadian government. Those participants who reported decreasing their outdoor activity accumulated less physical activity. Additionally, while most participants perceived an increase in their sedentary behaviour, this increase was more pronounced among individuals who reported higher COVID-19 anxiety.


These findings demonstrate that COVID-19 emergency health measures have impacted people’s health through changes to their physical activity and sedentary behaviour as well as their experienced anxiety towards COVID-19. Encouraging adults to be physically active outdoors, especially those who have higher anxiety during the on-going pandemic, may help individuals to accumulate more physical activity and reduce sedentary behaviour.


Suggested Citation

McCormack GR, Doyle-Baker PK, Petersen JA & Ghoneim D. Perceived anxiety and physical activity behaviour changes during the early stages of COVID-19 restrictions in community-dwelling adults in Canada: a cross-sectional study. BMJ Open. 2021;11:e050550. DOI:10.1136/ bmjopen-2021-050550


Graphic by Calli Naish, BAS; Posted on October 12, 2021

References:

  1. Government of Alberta. Help prevent the spread. https://www.alberta.ca/prevent-the-spread.aspx. 2021 [accessed September 28, 2021].

  2. Arora T, Grey I. Health behaviour changes during COVID-19 and the potential consequences: a mini-review. J Health Psychol. 2020;25:1155–63.

  3. Salari N, Hosseinian-Far A, Jalali R, et al. Prevalence of stress, anxiety, depression among the general population during the COVID-19 pandemic: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Global Health. 2020;6:57.

  4. Dozois DJA, Mental Health Research Canada. Anxiety and depression in Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic: a national survey. Canadian Psychology/Psychologie Canadienne. 2020;62:136–42.

  5. Robinson E, Boyland E, Chisholm A, et al. Obesity, eating behavior and physical activity during COVID-19 lockdown: a study of UK adults. Appetite. 2021;156:104853.