The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) and the resulting outbreak response measures in Germany and worldwide led to severe limitations in everyday life. This affected all sorts of daily activities and the possibility for physical activity (PA), which represents a major coping strategy against stress. The objective of this study was to analyze PA in German adults during a total lockdown phase including school closures in April 2020 in certain subgroups and in relation to other coping strategies.
Measures in Germany
In Germany, similar to other countries, these pre-emptive measures included the call to avoid contact with other people. To stay at home, to keep distance from other people of about 1.5 to 2 m. To work from home if possible. Solely leave the house for necessary reasons such as to commute to work. For the doctor’s appointments, or to run errands. Furthermore, all schools including kindergartens as well as public places such as restaurants and other service companies shut down. The implementation of these public health measures is expected to have influenced positive health behavior (i.e., sleep, physical activity) and negative health behavior (i.e., alcohol consumption, tobacco and drug use) . At the same time, the level of stress has risen strongly.
Adults in all age groups have been experiencing a variety of concerns in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic. Uncertainty about the spread of the novel coronavirus, separation and isolation from the social environment, fear of losing a loved one, negative economic consequences, and the loss of freedom. Critical life events such as the current COVID-19 pandemic lead to a break in everyday life. They are accompanied by limited controllability of life, which increases feelings of stress.
In order to deal with this unusual situation, people resort on the one hand to adaptive, positive coping strategies. Such include exchange via phone or internet with friends and family. On the other hand to maladaptive coping strategies, such as increased sedentary behavior, alcohol abuse, smoking, or a negative change in eating behavior.
Physical activity (PA) is a healthy and adaptive coping strategy that helps reduce mental health problems and anxiety levels.WHO defines PA as any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that requires energy expenditure. PA refers to all movement including during leisure time. To get to and from places, or as part of a person’s work. Exercise is a subset of physical activity that is planned and structured. It also has the goal to improve or maintain physical fitness.
Regular exercise is also associated with emotional resilience in stressful situations because of lower levels of cortisol and heart rates. Moreover, the promotion of PA is especially important as physical inactivity and sedentary behavior increase the risk of chronic diseases and the risk of higher morbidity from COVID-19.
For that reason, the German Federal Government still supported PA at home or outside without company during the lockdown. However, most likely, this coping strategy has not been available for all groups to the same extent during the pandemic. For instance, the closure of childcare facilities such as kindergartens or schools turned into a major challenge for working mothers and fathers with young children . Moreover, other sub-groups may not have had space, knowledge, or ability to exercise at home. Therefore, the objectives of this study are to analyse PA in German adults during the COVID-19 pandemic. Further, to discuss potential implications for following lockdown phases or future pandemics.