GUEST CONTRIBUTION: Matthew ‘Tepi’ Mclaughlin, @HealthTepi, PhD Candidate @Uni_Newcastle Chair ISPAH Early Career Network
‘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.
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.
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.
- The majority of our physical activity doesn’t normally come from exercise during our leisure time
- Less people need to get to work, which likely means less active transport
- Less people are working, both in manual labour and offices, therefore less occupational 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: