This blog provides a brief overview of an article published in Health Reports on July 15, 2020: “Exercise and screen time during the COVID-19 pandemic” by Rachel C Colley, Tracey Bushnik and Kellie Langlois. Thank you to Dr. Colley for providing this post.
Life changed dramatically in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Seemingly overnight, our busy lives stopped in their tracks and we remained glued to a terrifying news cycle. As the virus spread around the world, there were widespread border, business, and school closures. Many of us suddenly found ourselves working from home, homeschooling our children, and avoiding unnecessary trips outside our homes. While physical distancing measures are critical to reduce virus transmission1, prolonged restrictions can lead to decreased opportunities for outdoor exercise2 and increased anxiety and depression.3 During the confinement period, fewer Canadians rated their own mental health highly when compared to a sample of Canadians in 2018.4 Moreover, many reported increased feelings of anxiety.5 Many of us had newfound ‘down time’ unlike anything we had ever experienced. Many of us also grappled with rising levels of anxiety and depression. Did we use some of our new found free time to exercise? Did we manage our stress and anxiety by engaging in exercise?
What did we do?
Statistics Canada quickly mobilized resources to get a survey in the field to understand the impact of COVID-19 on the lives of Canadians: the Canadian Perspectives Survey Series. This survey asked over 7,000 Canadians questions about the labour market, behaviours and health impacts during the early stages of the global lockdown period: the week of March 29 to April 3rd, 2020. Participants were asked if they were exercising indoors or outdoors and whether they had increased, decreased or not changed their TV, internet and video game habits. Participants were also asked to self-rate their mental and general health as poor, fair, good, very good or excellent.
What did we find?
- About two thirds of men and women reported exercising outdoors and more women reported exercising indoors compared with men (63 versus 55%). A higher percentage of men aged 55+ reported exercising outdoors compared with younger men.
- Women who were exercising outdoors were more likely to self-perceive their mental and general health as very good or excellent compared with those who were not exercising outdoors.
- Women who were exercising indoors were more likely to self-perceive their general health as very good or excellent compared with those who were not exercising indoors.
- Men and women reported better mental health if they combined outdoor exercise with limiting their screen time.
The findings of this study should come as no surprise – it is well-known and accepted that physical activity (even small amounts of it…and especially if it is outside!) is good for our physical 6,7 and mental health!8,9 This paper is simply a reminder that there are small things we can strive to do every day in order to get through this challenging time. At the time of writing this blog (August 2020), we are still living the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic in Canada. It is becoming increasingly apparent that the virus and its associated restrictions on our lives will be with us for some time. Finding ways to deal with this new reality is not easy but spending time being active outdoors appears to be one strategy we can add to our coping toolkit. Perhaps it is a good time to stop reading this blog and go outside for a walk! 😉
- Chu DK, Akl EA, Duda S, Solo K, Yaacoub S, Schunemann HJ. Physical distancing, face masks, and eye protection to prevent person-to-person transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Lancet. June 1 2020.
- Chen P, Mao L, Nassis GP, Harmer P, Ainsworth BE, Fuzhong L. Coronavirus (COVID-19): The need to maintain regular physical activity while taking precautions. Journal of Sport and Health Science 2020; 9: 103-104.
- Brooks SK, Webster RK, Smith LE et al. The psychological impact of quarantine and how to reduce it: rapid review of the evidence. Lancet 2020; 395(10227): 912-920.
- Findlay L and R Arim. Canadians report lower self-perceived mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic. Statcan COVID-19: Data to Insights for a Better Canada. April 24, 2020. Available at:
- Statistics Canada. Impacts of COVID-19 on Canadians: First results from crowdsourcing. April 23, 2020. Catalogue no. 11-001-X. Available at:
- Warburton DER and SD Bredin. Health benefits of physical activity: a systematic review of current systematic reviews. Current Opinions in Cardiology 2017; 32(5): 541-556.
- Jakicic JM, Kraus WE, Powell KE et al. Association between bout duration of physical activity and health: a systematic review. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 2019; 51(6): 1213-1219.
- Lahart I, Darcy P, Gidlow C, Calogiuri G. The effects of green exercise on physical and mental wellbeing: a systematic review. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 2019; 16: 1352.
- Thompson Coon J, Boddy K, Stein K, Whear R, Barton J, Depledge MH. Does participating in physical activity in outdoor natural environments have a greater effect on physical and mental wellbeing than physical activity indoors? A systematic review. Environmental Science and Technology 2011; 45: 1761-1772.
Dr. Rachel Colley is a Senior Research Analyst in the Health Analysis Division at Statistics Canada. Her research is focused on examining the relationships between physical activity, sedentary behaviour and health in children and adults. Dr. Colley has been working with the accelerometer-measured physical activity data of the Canadian Health Measures Survey at Statistics Canada since 2007. Rachel previously worked as a Research Scientist with the Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research Group (HALO) at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute and she also served as the Scientific Officer for the Active Healthy Kids Canada Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth (2009-2013). Rachel completed her PhD in Human Movement Studies at the Queensland University of Technology in Australia in 2007.