As the lockdown restrictions came into place in spring 2020, we were interested in how much physical activity people were engaging in – after the move to remote working erased the need to commute, the gyms closed and, for a period of time, even going out to exercise outside was only allowed once per day. We also wanted to understand the role of digital technology in helping people stay active during the lockdown.
We created a Physical Activity survey that was distributed on social media and through newsletters at University College London. The initial survey attracted a total of 390 participants who told us about their physical activity habits: how much time they spent exercising, commuting and sitting – before and during the lockdown and at the start of the survey, in May 2020.
We then sent out four weekly follow-up surveys, so that each week participants could tell us about the changes in their physical activity as well as their motivations and experiences of using technologies aimed to support activity, such as apps, online classes or step trackers. A total of 126 participants completed all five surveys.
We found that people who used digital activity trackers during lockdown demonstrated an increase in vigorous physical activity. This suggests that a robust exercise regime can be maintained even when access to gyms and classes is restricted and using digital activity trackers may facilitate it. On the other hand, we did not find the use of technology to be related with levels of sedentariness during lockdown. Moreover, although many people became more aware of the importance of physical activity during lockdown, problems with motivation and injury resulting from rapid changes in exercise routine, posed a challenge to staying physical active.