COVID-19 crisis is causing people to exercise more

Posted on: 18 May 2020

Almost 50% of people are exercising more than they normally would during the COVID-19 crisis.

And with more than 50% of people now meeting recommended physical activity guidelines, this represents a significant, positive increase compared to what was seen in the last Healthy Ireland Survey conducted in 20191.

These headline observations are among the key preliminary results from a survey assessing the amounts, motivators and barriers to physical exercise during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Additionally, the survey results suggest that people are turning to new exercise options, such as online workouts, to ensure they get their exercise.

Led by researchers from the Discipline of Physiotherapy at Trinity, Drs Cuisle Forde and Emer Barrett, the national survey has gathered data from approximately 1,500 people across the country. Most responses came after government restrictions eased slightly on the 5th of May, enabling people to exercise within a 5 km radius of their homes.

Amount of exercise: key results

  • 46% of people felt they were exercising more since COVID-19 restrictions were applied, while 28% reported the opposite
  • 54% of people were meeting the recommended physical activity guidelines, which equates to a minimum of 30 minutes moderate intensity physical activity (enough to raise your breathing rate) on five days of the week
  • This is an improvement on the 46% of the population meeting the recommended guidelines in the last Healthy Ireland Survey 20191


Types of – and motivators/barriers to – exercise: key results

  • Almost 90% of people reported walking in the last seven days
  • Almost 50% have found new ways to be active since the restrictions, with many using online workouts for the first time
  • Over 90% were physically active because it benefited their mental and physical health
  • Over 70% felt that it was more important to exercise since the outbreak
  • The main barrier to exercise was a person’s usual means of exercise being unavailable to them, with around 20% saying being unable to meet their friends was key
  • Around 20% felt that an increased workload limited their ability to be physically active

Dr Emer Barrett, Trinity, said:

“The really striking positive result from this survey is the finding that almost half of all people report that they are exercising more during the COVID-19 restrictions. People haven’t let the closure of gyms, classes or the 5 km distance restriction limit their ability to exercise and are finding new ways to be active.

“It is very encouraging to see that there is a strong awareness of how physical activity can positively impact mental and physical health particularly at this time of crisis. We need to understand the factors that have facilitated or motivated this increase in activity with a view to maintaining them once restrictions are lifted.”

Dr Cuisle Forde, Trinity, added:

“What we have to focus on now is understanding the reasons why almost 30% of people reported exercising less than usual. Our research will allow us to identify whether the decline in their activity is as a result of cocooning, work commitments, or caring for children or dependant others.

“While the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted everybody it is likely that some people are experiencing more negative consequences than others and not having the opportunity to be physically active is one such example.”

The research team is currently analysing the data and will soon prepare a publication which will present full results from the survey. Anyone interested in participating in the survey can do so (until 5 pm, Wednesday 20th May) can do so here.

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Thomas Deane, Media Relations Officer | | +353 1 896 4685