‘It’s a lockdown, but don’t stop exercising’

GUEST CONTRIBUTION: Matthew ‘Tepi’ Mclaughlin, @HealthTepi, PhD Candidate @Uni_Newcastle Chair ISPAH Early Career Networktepi


‘It’s a lockdown, but don’t stop exercising’ is the message from the UK Government during the Coronavirus pandemic of 2020.

On the back of this stance, a few people have been quick to suggest this may increase the nation’s physical activity. Or it could go the other way.

Tweet 1

I suggest it will decrease during lockdown.

Personal Case Study of the Mclaughlin Family

Our family unit currently consists of myself and my parents, whilst I am home from Australia (where I am doing my PhD and live with my fiancée).

Dad works at a busy café, regularly sending me screenshots of how he’s done 10,000 steps whilst at work. The café is closed due to the Government directive.

Mum’s a gym bunny, her classes have closed at the gym.

I cycle 26km a day commuting to work, I now walk from my bedroom to the office.

Last week, we set up home gym in the back garden. We’re lucky, we could afford the equipment. We have the skills to set up a safe exercise circuit. We’re all motivated. We don’t have children to look after. We have a back garden. The weather has so far been kind.

We’ve been out each day since.

Photo: Mclaughlin family undertaking the daily workout to start the day, 25/03/2020.

So yes, it may appear we’re ‘exercising’ more….but I suggest we’re doing less overall physical activity during this pandemic. Between us, we’re doing less active transport and less occupation-related physical activity.

Some reasons why we won’t be more active during this pandemic

Reason 1: We might exercise more during our leisure, but we’ll do less active transport and work related physical activity.

Reason 2: Gyms are closed, so exercise routines are disrupted.

  • Do people have the skills to be active outside a gym? I.e. they don’t have the ‘physical literacy’ to be active at home
  • YouTube videos may partially replace a gym, but they likely won’t achieve the same intensity of or duration of physical activity as a gym visit
  • Some may think this is an opportune time for a ‘break’ from exercise

 Reason 3: The privileged might, but others won’t exercise more.

  • Some may have a ‘spare room’ or a garden to exercise in, many won’t.
  • Some may have access to equipment, many won’t.
  • Some may not normally have to work, so may already have been physically active at home (e.g. home gym)

 Reason 4: Many of us have been instructed to leave the house under no circumstances, not even for exercise

  • “Extremely vulnerable” people are instructed not to leave the house, and that list is long


Data from Fitbit suggests a decline in step count last week of 9% in the UK compared with the same time last year. It looks as though I was right, unfortunately.

Post the Coronavirus pandemic, will physical inactivity be recognised as a pandemic?


In the long term, this may have some unanticipated benefits. The ‘stage’ that physical activity has been given by politicians is bigger than ever, just by being mentioned. The negative emotions people feel from this lockdown may last, people may attribute them to “not getting outside” or “not moving about”. I suggest Dr Karen Milton may be right:

milton tweet


Physical activity and The Great British “Lockdown”

Today was the first day of the British “lockdown”. Seeing the devastation wrought upon countries such as China, Italy and Spain, the UK government has finally(!) taken more serious steps to overcome the Coronavirus. Their official advice is below.

gov lockdown

While the advice / rules are generally clear, there is still some confusion – for example, what counts or what does not count as essential. More detailed advice about leaving the house was provided in a document on the government’s website:

gov 2

In reply to a journalist’s question about how much running, cycling or walking people should do each day, one government minister replied that they should do what “ordinarily would have done”. So if this advice is followed, there won’t be an upsurge in the nation’s physical activity levels, since many/most in the population don’t ordinarily meet government guidelines for physical activity anyway.

After more than a week of very limited movement outside of home, I decided to go for a walk after lunch to a local park. Here’s my thoughts on that. Rewatching the video I noticed I said the UK government still “encourage” exercise … but in hindsight, that was probably too strong … “allow” exercise is probably closer to the truth!

Part 1: Avoiding Other People

Part 2: At the Park

Part 3: The End of the Walk

I am not sure what the future holds for these sorts of excursions. It looks like the situation in the UK `is only getting worse with more than 80 people dying today from the virus. It is quite possible even walking, running and cycling for exercise will need to be eliminated for a while. Keep safe everyone!
Joe P