Covid-19 Social Study

UCL is conducting a large scale research project throughout the Covid-19 pandemic and are exploring the effects of the pandemic on the population. This is being done by examining a variety of social factors, including physical activity, and looking at changes through weekly surveys.

Overhead view of a group dance exercise class in a community centre

The Covid-19 Social Study is run by University College London and is one of the largest research projects in the UK exploring the effects of the virus and the social distancing measures during the pandemic. As part of the project weekly updates are released covering core questions as well as a specific focus for that week, thus far two weeks have included a focus on exercise which we've summarised below.

Results Release 2: 2nd April 2020

Moderate or high intensity activity

This release found that less than one in ten respondents had left their home in the previous day to engage in moderate or high intensity activity, such as running, cycling or swimming, for at least 30 minutes. Among younger adults (18-30 year olds), the cohort for whom activity levels are typically highest, only 14% reported going out for moderate or high intensity activity for more than 30 minutes. The numbers fall progressively with age with just 6% of over 60’s doing 30 minutes of moderate or high intensity activity.

In line with activity levels outside of lockdown a gender gap is clearly apparent with a 4% gap between men and women taking part in the 30 minutes of activity. It is also concerning to see the gap between those with a household annual income of less than £30,000 and those with an annual income greater than this (5% v. 12%). Furthermore, both physical health conditions and diagnosed mental health conditions appear to have a large affect on activity levels. For those with a physical health condition just 6% did more than 30 minutes of moderate or high intensity activity compared to 12% of those without; with mental health conditions the figure is just 5% compared to 10% of those without a diagnosed mental health condition.

Gentle physical activity

36% of respondents reported having gone for a walk or other gentle physical activity for at least 30 minutes. The highest levels were amongst 60+ year olds for whom 43% spent more than 30 minutes a day walking or doing gentle exercise, for other age groups the figure was around a third. Moreover, men are, once more, spending more time being active with 39% doing gentle exercise for more than 30 minutes compared to 36% of women. Respondents whose annual household income is greater than £30,000 report spending more time on these activities than those with a lower household income (40% vs 31%). Furthermore, those living in overcrowded households, and therefore more likely to be from a lower socio-economic group, report spending less time walking or partaking in gentle physical activity (31%) compared to those not residing in overcrowded households (37%). As with moderate to vigorous physical activity those with long term physical health conditions and diagnosed mental health conditions were less likely have done 30 minutes of gentle activity. For those with physical health conditions 33% achieved 30 minutes of gentle activity compared to 40% of those without. For those with diagnosed mental health conditions, just 28% achieved 30 minutes of gentle activity compared to 39% of those without.

Home based activity

When looking at home based activities, such as yoga or weights, 18% of respondents did more than 30 minutes, this was highest amongst young adults (18-30 year olds) where nearly a quarter had done so, and in line with moderate to vigorous activity, this figure declines with age. With regards to gender, home based activities flip the pattern seen elsewhere with women reporting spending more time on this than men (19% v 14%). Household income is consistent with both gentle and moderate to vigorous activities with a 5% gap between higher annual income and lower annual income. Amongst those with physical conditions 16% did more than 30 minutes compared to 20% of those without a physical condition and 14% of those with a mental health condition did 30+ minutes of home based activities compared to 19% of those without.

No activity

When looking at all three measures together it is interesting to note that partaking in no exercise is most common amongst those aged 46-59, where just over one in four did no exercise. The largest gap was amongst those with diagnosed mental health conditions with a 13% gap between those with and without a condition doing no exercise. Engaging in no physical activity was more prevalent amongst low household incomes compared to high household incomes and for those with physical health conditions and those without, both household income and long term physical health conditions have a 10% gap. Interestingly there is little difference by gender.

Read the full release here.

Results Release 6: 28th April 2020

When looking across activity groups the proportion of people doing no activity on the previous day has remained consistent throughout lockdown with around 80% of people undertaking some form of exercise. During this time there has been little difference between age groups, however, those with low household incomes and an existing mental health diagnosis have reported lower levels of activity.

Read the full release here.

The weekly reports and more about the project can be found here.