Health Team

NC State study: Pandemic cost us time, physical activity, mental health

Posted September 23, 2021 4:43 p.m. EDT
Updated September 23, 2021 5:40 p.m. EDT

A new multi-state survey from North Carolina State University finds more people showed signs of psychological distress during the pandemic, that it has had an impact on their physical activity. The results also point to differences due to income status and where people live.

Thomas RaShad Easley tries to walk 4 miles every day, often around Raleigh’s Lake Johnson. Outdoor exercise is important to him.

"If anything is going to coop you up inside, that’s the worst thing for your health. So activity helps me by keeping my mind clear," said Easley.

Maintaining mental and physical well-being may be a greater challenge now than ever.

"Individuals’ psychological distress increased a lot during the pandemic," said NC State's Lindsey Haynes-Maslow, who co-authored a multi-state study about the impact of COVID-19.

Survey participants revealed their sense of overall mental wellness with a focus on physical activity. "The more physically active we are, we feel better, and our mental health tends to be better as well," said Haynes-Maslow.

The survey exposed real-life challenges for exercise due to lingering COVID-19 concerns. "A lot of urban individuals and respondents talked about gym closures that were being difficult," said Haynes-Maslow.

Survey responses show residents of urban areas have less access to safe places for exercise. Those in rural areas have more outdoor options for activity, while higher income groups have more flexible schedules and easier access to things like home exercise equipment.

Another challenge is that more adults are just busier. Haynes-Maslow asked rhetorically, "Are you the teacher now as well as a mom, as well as a full-time worker? If you’re a grandparent raising a grandchild, are you now a kindergarten teacher?"

The added duties may leave little time or energy for exercise. However, Easley makes his step count his daily guide and a high personal priority. The steps show up on his smartphone.

"This is what I’m looking at," he said, showing that day's total. "That lets you know that that’s where my head is at right now."

Haynes-Maslow says a key take-home message is that policy-makers need to think more about investing in new infrastructure for safer, "walkable" communities especially in under-served communities.

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