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Kent State University researchers study COVID-19 pandemic's effects on physical activity and sedentary behavior

Researchers analyzed data of more than 400 college students, faculty, staff and administrators.
Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

KENT, Ohio — In a before-and-after comparison of physical activity, researchers at Kent State analyzed data of students, faculty, staff and administrators who reported their typical physical activity and sedentary behavior before the COVID-19 pandemic and after the stay-at-home order and closure of campus began. 

Unsurprisingly, participants reported nearly eight hours more sitting per week after transitioning from in-person classes to remote learning.

Though not all changes reported in physical activity were as straightforward. According to the data reported, participants who were not highly active prior to the transition to remote learning actually saw an uptick in physical activity after the closure of campus, while those who were highly active before remote the pandemic saw a decrease in overall activity after the stay-at-home order.

"It appears that the participants who were most physically active before the pandemic may have been the most negatively affected," said Jacob Barkley, Ph.D., a College of Education, Health and Human Services professor at Kent who assessed the data from the research. "This makes sense as these active individuals are more likely to utilize the fitness facilities that were closed when the pandemic hit. However, the increases in physical activity in participants who were less active before the pandemic were surprising. Perhaps the elimination of a daily commute left them with more time for physical activity. Or perhaps, they started walking just to get out of the house for a bit," Barkley continued. 

Other researchers included in the study are; Kent State College of Education, Health and Human Services professors Andrew Lepp, Ph.D. and Ellen Glickman, Ph.D.; former Kent State doctoral students Greg Farnell, Ph.D., Jake Beiting, Ryan Wiet and Bryan Dowdell, Ph.D.. The study, titled 'The Acute Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Physical Activity and Sedentary Behavior in University Students and Employees," is published in the International Journal of Exercise Science.

The researchers recommend the following tips to maintain positive health behaviors as the pandemic has no end in sight:

  • Try minimizing sitting for extended periods of time and add in some exercise at home or outside.
  • If you are working from home or taking classes remotely, try to incorporate a standing desk into your routine.
  • Break up your sedentary activity by adding some physical activity into your day which can improve cognition, productivity and reduce stress.

"There are likely lots of us that could use some stress relief right now," Barkley said. "Getting up and moving can provide just that."

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