Men and younger adults are less physically active in lockdown

Women and older adults are most likely to meet exercise targets.


A new study examined the levels of physical activity during the UK COVID-19 social distancing guidance and investigated how such levels vary by sociodemographic, behavioral, clinical, and contextual factors.

The study, conducted by the Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) and Ulster University, included 911 UK adults who took part in an online survey which began on 17 March.

75.0% of the participants met the physical activity guidelines during social distancing. Meeting these guidelines during social distancing was significantly associated with gender, age, annual household income, level of physical activity per day when not observing social distancing and physical symptoms experienced during social distancing.

This is higher than previous studies carried out before the COVID-19 pandemic, which found that between 58% and 66% of the UK adult population typically meet physical activity guidelines.

The results suggest that women, older adults, and those with a higher annual household income were significantly more likely to meet the WHO’s physical activity guidelines. In contrast, men and younger adults have been less physically active during the COVID-19 lockdown.

Lead author Dr. Lee Smith, Reader in Physical Activity and Public Health at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), said: “The overall levels of physical activity are higher than we were expecting.”

“It may be that the UK public has 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.”

Journal Reference:
  1. Lee Smith et al., Prevalence and correlates of physical activity in a sample of UK adults observing social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic, BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine (2020). DOI: 10.1136/bmjsem-2020-000850
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