Kinesiology professor Sarah WoodruffKinesiology professor Sarah Woodruff is finding people are less active while working from home.

Researchers studying impact of COVID-19 on physical activity

Staying active is proving difficult for many people self-isolating or working from home, early results from a UWindsor research project suggest.

Kinesiology professor Sarah Woodruff and doctoral student Paige Coyne are studying how physical activity behaviours have changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Through social media, they have recruited 132 people who normally track the number of steps they take in a day to submit that information to the study.

“Daily schedules have changed dramatically, and priorities may have shifted,” said Dr. Woodruff.

“It is evident that some barriers for physical activity may have increased while others decreased. What we were noticing is that in self-isolation or quarantine, some people were being much more active because they have more time, and some people were being less active.”

A survey from early in the study suggest people are walking 1,000 fewer steps per day since sanctions to battle the spread of the virus began.

Woodruff said those less active may be losing out on incidental exercise they get in their normal workday — walking to the washroom or watercooler, or back and forth from their parking spots.

The study’s participants include men and women aged 18 to 77. Twelve are retirees. Most of the participants are Canadian, but there are eight people from the United Kingdom, two from the United States, and one from New Zealand. The majority happen to be Caucasian women with an average age of 36.

Woodruff and Coyne began collecting data in early April. They will follow the participants for six months, through the arrival of warmer weather, park openings, and the gradual lifting of social distancing measures. They noted when each participant went into isolation to be able to compare physical activity before and after that date.

The study includes a survey that looks at other lifestyle changes as a result of the pandemic.

“People may be participating in negative health behaviours,” Woodruff said, citing increased alcohol consumption or substance use.

Apart from the physical health benefits, being active during the pandemic is “a means to curb boredom, maintain mental health, get outside, and burn off extra energy,” she said.

The idea for the study came as Woodruff sat in her home office and noticed more people than usual walking past her window. “My grad student and I were talking about it every day. It was that observation that led to this idea.”

As part of the study, Woodruff will be posting an infographic to her lab’s web page each month. The first includes tips on how to become more active.

The research is being funded through UWindsor’s Office of the Vice-President of Research and Innovation and the WE-Spark Health Institute, a research partnership involving the University of Windsor, Windsor Regional Hospital, Hotel-Dieu Grace Healthcare, and St. Clair College. It is one of 21 local COVID-related research projects WE-Spark is supporting through its COVID-19 Rapid Response grant program.

—Sarah Sacheli