Fitness apps help keep us active in lockdown

While gyms and sporting clubs may close throughout the revolving Covid-19 lockdowns, which may make it harder for many to stick to exercise routines, one way to stay active during this time is through the use of fitness apps.

A study by researchers at Flinders University, published in Psychology of Sport and Exercise, was conducted to ‘weigh up’ the psychological and mental health barriers, which promote or prevent people from engaging with physical activity apps.

While regular exercise is important for physical and mental health, the study found that during the initial Covid-19 lockdown in April-May 2020, more than half (53%) of those surveyed reported a decline in physical activity. The study found that only 24% reported an increase in physical activity.

Lead researcher Jasmine Petersen, from the Caring Futures Institute at Flinders University, says that the study was looking at “how using technology such as mobile apps during lockdown can provide people with opportunities to be physically active, and how people’s state of mind might affect this”.

“It’s important for people to keep active during lockdown, particularly if their mental health or self-motivations are affected by lockdown during the pandemic.

“We know that closure of indoor and outdoor sporting facilities, cancellation of sporting competitions, isolation, social distancing, and travel restrictions are affecting our engagement in physical activity, so urgent steps need to be taken to address this,” says Ms Petersen.

The researchers found that solutions that helped increase physical activity adherence during lockdown included social support (from family, social media, etc.), self-efficacy (an individual’s beliefs in their ability to perform physical activity) and motivation.

They also found that the most frequently used physical activity apps were Strava (23%), Fitbit (16%) and Garmin (10%). Participants largely reported using their apps seven times per week (35%), followed by five times (13%) and three times per week (13%).

Among app users, 54% reported that the physical activity app they were currently using had an app-specific community, and of these 55% reported engaging with the community.

Additionally, most app users (83%) engaged with existing social networking platforms in relation to physical activity.

The main types of physical activity participants reported engaging in during the Covid-19 lockdown were walking (43.5%), running (19.0%), home workouts (16.1%), yoga/Pilates (6.0%), cycling (5.6%), and strength training (3.1%).

“Commercial physical activity apps are accessible, affordable, and an easy step for people to maintain their physical activity during a pandemic, and thus the use of these apps should be promoted and encouraged,” says Health Psychologist Associate Professor Ivanka Prichard, senior author of the paper published in Psychology of Sport and Exercise.

“If the reported reductions in physical activity during the Covid-19 lockdown are contributing to heightened levels of depression, anxiety, and stress, it is imperative that interventions are designed to support engagement in physical activity during a pandemic to foster positive physical and mental health outcomes,” she says.

The researchers recommend interventions using physical activity apps to increase social support, self-efficacy and autonomous motivations to support engagement in physical activity during a pandemic.

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