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Lockdown activity increase should be ‘sustained’

By Ella Pickover
People who boosted their exercise level during lockdown should try to keep it up, researchers have said.

It comes after a new study found that Britons were more likely to meet physical activity goals at the height of the social distancing restrictions.

The national lockdown implemented in March saw large swathes of the population confined to their homes – with many only going outside to get a single dose of daily exercise.

Prior to lockdown only 58%–66% of the UK adult population met the recommended levels of physical activity, but a new study found that this rose to 75% after Covid-19 social distancing restrictions were put in place.

These people should be encouraged to sustain this level of physical activity as restrictions are lifted, researchers said.

The study found differences between gender, age, and annual household income linked to whether or not a person was likely to get enough exercise.

Researchers led by a team from Anglia Ruskin University set out to investigate the levels of physical activity during the pandemic – and launched a survey just before stringent lockdown measures were implemented.

A poll of 911 British adults found that three-quarters of participants managed to meet physical activity guidelines – 150 minutes of moderate physical activity and/or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity per week.

They found that women, older adults and those with higher annual household income were significantly likely to be more physically active.

Indeed the average number of minutes spent doing moderate to vigorous physical activity per day when social distancing was 94.

But those aged 18 to 34 spent 67 minutes doing this level of activity compared with 153 minutes among those aged 65 and older.

The study, published in the journal BMJ Open Sport and Exercise Medicine, found that men were less likely than women to meet activity levels.

And those with a household income below £15,000 were less likely than more affluent people to meet the recommendations.

“Previous studies have identified that approximately 58%–66% of the UK adult population meet physical activity guidelines, whereas the present study found that this level was at 75% during social distancing,” the authors wrote.

“During Covid-19 social distancing the UK public may have experienced an increase in discretionary time and thus may be using this additional discretionary time to be physically active.

“Second, one of the key reasons that one may leave their home grounds during Covid-19 social distancing is to partake in one form of exercise daily.

“Interestingly, higher levels of physical activity were observed in older adults and in women. These findings contradict the literature during non-pandemic times, where the younger and men are observed to have higher levels of physical activity.”

The researchers said work should now be done to support women and older adults in sustaining this level of physical activity post-pandemic.

And efforts should also be put into increasing exercise levels among younger adults, men and those from low-income households.

Lead author Dr Lee Smith, reader in physical activity and public health at Anglia Ruskin University, said: “The overall levels of physical activity are higher than we were expecting.

“It may be that the UK public have experienced an increase in free time and used this time to be physically active.

“Additionally, during the early stages of the outbreak, one of the few reasons to leave home was to take part in an hour of exercise. As well as offering a reason to go outside, this may have served as a target for some people.

“Typically, the proportion of UK adults meeting physical activity guidelines declines with age. Therefore, there should be additional support offered to older adults to encourage them to sustain this level of physical activity post-pandemic.”

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