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How Has COVID-19 Affected Our Physical Activity Levels?

February 23, 2022
3 minutes
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The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a huge toll on just about every aspect of our lives. We’ve all been affected financially, emotionally, and physically. And the risk to our long-term health and wellbeing is significant. 

So much attention has been given to the physical, emotional, and financial impact of both the illness and the restrictions that have been put into place for public safety. And we know that our activity patterns and lifestyles have changed drastically. 

To really get a sense of how these changes have impacted our members and your activity levels, we took a look at average daily step counts before and during the pandemic. 

We looked at Fitbit step counts for 74,000 Evidation Members from October 1, 2018 to January 31, 2022. 

What we found wasn’t really surprising, but it did leave us with a few questions. 

Has Covid-19 Affected Step Counts?

We looked at the average daily step counts of our members during the last week in January for the two years of the current coronavirus pandemic (2021 & 2022) and the same week in the previous two years. 

As you can see in the chart below, step counts were much lower (around 800 steps per day) during the pandemic than before.


Graph comparing January's average daily step counts and after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic


But, step counts always tend to go down over the holidays. That’s why we pulled steps from the last week in January, when they traditionally go back to pre holiday levels.

So, to be sure the decrease wasn’t caused solely by the holidays, we compared the step counts from January (shown above) to those in early October, before the holiday dip. 

Since we also see an increase in COVID cases (and fear of COVID-related risks) during the holidays, we wanted to know what effect that might have on established patterns. 

Is the drop in steps because of COVID? Or just because of the holidays?

Some of the decrease in steps is due to the holidays. But if we compare the levels to prior years, we can see that the past two Januarys (2021 and 2022), which were heavily impacted by the coronavirus, had a much bigger decrease in steps compared to a baseline taken in October of the previous year.

Chart showing a drastic decrease in daily step counts between both October 2020 and January 2021 and October 2021 and January 2022

As you can see from the chart below, we see dips in step counts during the holidays in all four years (before and during COVID). 

But, the step counts are lower in general from 2020 to 2022 than in preCOVID years. And, when they dip for the holidays, they take longer to get back to preholidays levels during 2020-2022 compared to preCOVID years. 

Graph showing a drastic decrease in daily step counts at the turn of the new year for data captured in 2018-2022

 

We can also see that the drop in steps starting late December 2022 matches with the Google Trends interest score for the search term "COVID" which peaked in January 2022.

Graph reflecting the sharp increase in Google searches for the word COVID after the onset of the Omicron variant in December 2021

That means that worry about COVID and COVID-related interest peaked at the same time the step counts were at their lowest point. 

Are vaccinated people taking more steps?

Since it seems that concern over COVID is related to the decrease in steps, we wanted to understand if people who are vaccinated or live in areas where more of the population is vaccinated are moving more. 

What we found is that while step counts are lower overall than in preCOVID years, regardless of vaccination rates, states with higher vaccination rates tend to have higher step counts on average. 

What does that mean?

It means that people in states with higher vaccination rates are walking more than those in states with lower vaccination rates, but still not as much as they were before the pandemic. 

Graph showing states with vaccination rates greater than 67% obtaining the most steps from October 2021 to January 2022

Why are step counts lower during Covid?

We can’t know for certain why people are moving less during COVID, but there is no shortage of information out there on the subject. 

More people are staying home, avoiding public places like the gym or large events. Many are still not leaving their homes except for when absolutely necessary. Some are dealing with mental health or financial challenges that may impact their ability to find the motivation to match their previous levels of activity. 

What is certain is that while step counts always fluctuate based on a variety of factors, the current pandemic is definitely having an impact as well, whatever the reason. 

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