How Quarantine Has Changed Exercise

​Depending on where you are, your life looks different than it did 8-10 weeks ago. Here in the United States, it was mid-March that things started to shut down and we were told to stay home. In order to prevent the COVID-19 virus from spreading too quickly and overwhelming our hospitals, we shut down all non-essential businesses. This ​meant not only no access to gyms and pools, but also most people working from home.

So what impact did all of this have on exercise? Did people give up completely on their routine since there was no access to treadmills, ellipticals, weights, spin class or the pool? Would people find something else to do since they could not go to Pure Barre, Orangetheory or their local CrossFit Box?

While it's impossible to gather all of the data to determine how exercise habits changed over the last two and a half months, Garmin compiled data from it's users and came up with some pretty interesting results. For those of you not familiar with Garmin, they produce activity trackers and sports watches, aimed at activities such as running, watersports, golf, cycling and swimming with sensors such as heart rate and GPS. Most users upload their workouts to the Garmin website or app, giving the company access to the activity of hundreds of thousands of people worldwide.

​Here are some of the more interesting statistics from the Garmin report:

Total steps worldwide decreased 12% in the month of April - but some countries saw a sharper drop-off than others. This is likely due to how strict the lockdowns were. ​While some countries stay at home orders meant that it was hard to leave the house for any reason, others allowed people more freedom to get out. The map below shows how people's step counts differed from the same time period one year earlier. If you look back to data from March, step counts in the United States dropped almost 13% from March 1, 2020 to March 31, 2020.

But what is really interesting is that while people were not moving as much with normal activity (steps normally accrued by just walking to get to work and while at work), people made up for it by being more intentional about getting their steps in through exercise. Steps from a logged activity such as taking a walk, hiking or even running ​were up 24% in April 2020 compared to April 2019. This is very encouraging and I know that my family began taking more walks than we had in the past just to get out of the house.

So aside from walking, how have other exercise routines changed? Getting back to my original question, did people use this quarantine time to start exercising more or did they throw in the towel and decide that it was too much work to try and figure out a way to get their workout in at home?

The answer is that is really depends on what people's preferred method of exercise was/is. The biggest decrease has been in swimming (down 88%). This is not a surprise since pools have been closed. The biggest increase has been indoor cycling. Virtual cycling activity ​jumped an incredible 64% in the second half of the month of March​ and continued to climb through April. This is normally the time of year when people in the northern hemisphere start going outside to ride, but I think what you are seeing is more a result of new people picking up the sport. ​The stationary bike company Peloton announced that first quarter 2020 revenue soared 66% and paid digital subscribers jumped 64% after the Covid-19 pandemic spurred thousands of people to workout at home. Bike shops have also seen a huge increase in road bike sales over the last few months as well.

​Another method of exercise that has seen an increase worldwide ​is indoor workouts with fitness equipment. In China, Mexico, South Africa and a handful of other countries, fitness equipment workouts increased more than any other activity. ​People were able to shift from gym-structured workouts to home-based workouts. Good luck trying to buy a Kettle Bell or Dumbell Set right now! People also ​turned to bodyweight only workouts and found that they could be just as effective. 

Offering further reassurance on the dual physical and emotional health front is the positive trend for yoga. Garmin wearable device data showed an 11% increase in yoga in March.

Along with Swimming, Multisport (triathlon) training,​ hiking and golf also ranked as the activities with the largest decreases in multiple countries. But according to Garmin, athletes that focused on these sports have been finding alternatives. In South Africa, for example, 20% of the users who were golfing in April 2019 turned to indoor fitness workouts in April 2020, while another 11% began indoor cycling.

After analyzing the activity trend data for two months, ​Garmin is using the phrase “fitness is finding a way”.  ​I am encouraged, but not surprised that hard-core athletes have not stopped training, but are just adapting and finding other ways to exercise. My hope is that the casual exerciser or even those that did not exercise before have started a new routine and will continue to walk, ride, run or even do yoga after things open back up! ​

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Wishing you optimal health and peak performance,

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