Changes in physical activity during the initial stages of the COVID-19 pandemic

M. Ryan Mason, James H. Hudgins, Marilyn S. Campbell, Martha J. Biddle, Mindy J. Ickes, Adam Dugan, Lance M. Bollinger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Introduction: The COVID-19 pandemic response limited access to many traditional forms of physical activity (PA). Purpose:To assess changes in objectively measured PAofUniversity staff during the initial stageofthe COVID-19 pandemic. Methods: We implemented a repeated measures natural experiment design. PA data (walking distance, steps∙d#x2D;1, and Moderate#x2D;to#x2D;Vigorous PA (MVPA) time) from commercial grade triaxial accelerometers were collected from employees (N#x3D;625) of a large, public university in the southeast United States during the months of Jan#x2D;May in calendar years 2019 and 2020. Results: Walking distance (6#x2D;9#x25;, p#x3C;0.001) and steps∙d#x2D;1(7#x2D;11#x25;, p#x3C;0.001) were lower during April and May 2020 compared to 2019. However, MVPA time was not significantly different among calendar years for the months of March#x2D;May. Steps∙d#x2D;1significantly decreased after WHO’s worldwide pandemic declaration (10,348#xB1;171 v. 9551#xB1;156 steps∙d#x2D;1, p#x3C;0.001) and campus closure (10,100#xB1;160 v. 9,186#xB1;167 steps∙d#x2D;1, p#x3C;0.001). Conversely, steps∙d#x2D;1significantly increased after implementation of the state’s “Healthy at Home” order (9,693#xB1;177 vs. 10,156#xB1;185 steps∙d#x2D;1, p#x3C;0.001). Conclusion: A decrease in daily steps, but not MVPA, suggests increased sedentary behavior, not reduced participation in exercise, during the early stages of the COVID#x2D;19 pandemic. Specific pandemic response policies may positively or negatively affect PA and sedentary behavior.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)116-124
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Sports Sciences
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, Award Number: UL1TR001998.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • Steps
  • accelerometry
  • coronavirus
  • exercise
  • public health policy
  • sedentary behaviour

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation


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