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COVID-19 lockdown was associated with fewer physically active older adults, a recent paper shows

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COVID-19 lockdown was associated with fewer physically active older adults, a recent paper shows

Researchers from NIHR ARC-GM and The University of Manchester have published a paper in BMC Public Health which identifies that the proportion of older adults realising the recommended levels of physical activity decreased from 43% in September 2020 to 33% in January 2021 during the third COVID-19 lockdown


The impact of COVID-19 lockdown on physical activity trends and changes in exercise patterns project, as part of NIHR ARC-GM Healthy Ageing and Economic Sustainability themes, used a sample of 3,660 older adults (aged ≥ 65) who took part in the UK Household Longitudinal Study’s annual and COVID-19 studies.


The researchers examined trends in the proportion of older individuals who were physically active both before and after the government-imposed lockdown in March 2020.


Activity levels remained about the same as pre-pandemic during the first lockdown, but there was a decline in activity between September 2020 and January 2021 with those least active before the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic becoming more active and those more active became less during the second lockdown.


Jack Elliott, Research Associate in our Economic Sustainability Theme, who led the analysis, said:  


"The long-term risks to older adults' health outcomes resulting from lockdown-related inactivity are concerning. To counteract these risks, government officials, health experts, and media professionals need to encourage the uptake of physical activity. In particular, the promotion of activities with reduced risk of COVID-19 infection, such as home workouts, should be targeted at those particularly vulnerable to infection or those wanting to take extra precautions."



The research team concluded that whilst the restrictions helped control the spread of COVID-19, they have also likely had adverse effects on population health including deconditioning from reduced activity levels. Resources are required to promote the uptake of physical activity and help older adults regain pre-pandemic activity levels to counteract the potential long-term health effects.


Dr Luke Munford, Deputy Lead of our Economic Sustainability theme, who also co-authored the paper, commented:


“We know that it is really important to keep people physically active as it has been shown to improve quality of life and mental well-being. We show here that the lockdowns associated with the pandemic led to reductions in levels of physical activity and we need urgent action to reverse these trends.”



Read the paper in full:  Elliott, J., Munford, L., Ahmed, S. et al. The impact of COVID-19 lockdowns on physical activity amongst older adults: evidence from longitudinal data in the UK. BMC Public Health 22, 1802 (2022).



Published 18/10/22

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