Associations between Physical Activity, Sitting Time, and Time Spent Outdoors with Mental Health during the First COVID-19 Lock Down in Austria

Sandra Haider, Lee Smith, Lovro Markovic, Felipe B. Schuch, Kabir P. Sadarangani, Guillermo Felipe Lopez Sanchez, Rubén Lopez-Bueno, Alejandro Gil-Salmerón, Anita Rieder, Mark A. Tully, Lena Tschiderer, Lisa Seekircher, Peter Willeit, Igor Grabovac

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Measures implemented to reduce the spread of SARS-CoV-2 have resulted in a decrease in physical activity (PA) while sedentary behaviour increased. The aim of the present study was to explore associations between PA and mental health in Austria during COVID-19 social restrictions. In this web-based cross-sectional study (April–May 2020) moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA), sitting time, and time spent outdoors were self-reported before and during self-isolation. Mental well-being was assessed with the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Well-being Scale, and the Beck depression and anxiety inventories. The majority of the participants (n = 652) were female (72.4%), with a mean age of 36.0 years and a standard deviation (SD) of 14.4. Moreover, 76.5% took part in ≥30 min/day of MVPA, 53.5% sat ≥10 h/day, and 66.1% spent ≥60 min/day outdoors during self-isolation. Thirty-eight point five percent reported high mental well-being, 40.5% reported depressive symptoms, and 33.9% anxiety symptoms. Participating in higher levels of MVPA was associated with higher mental well-being (odds ratio = OR: 3.92; 95% confidence interval = 95%CI: 1.51–10.15), less depressive symptoms (OR: 0.44; 95%CI: 0.29–0.66) and anxiety symptoms (OR = 0.62; 95%CI: 0.41–0.94), and less loneliness (OR: 0.46; 95%CI: 0.31–0.69). Participants sitting 10 h/day had higher odds of mental well-being (OR: 3.58; 95%CI: 1.13–11.35). Comparable results were found for spending ≥60 min/day outdoors. Maintaining one’s MVPA levels was associated with higher mental well-being (OR = 8.61, 95%CI: 2.68–27.62). In conclusion, results show a positive association between PA, time spent outdoors and mental well-being during COVID-19 social restrictions. Interventions aiming to increase PA might mitigate negative effects of such restrictions.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere9168
JournalInternational Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
Issue number17
Early online date31 Aug 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 31 Aug 2021


  • COVID-19
  • physical activity
  • mental health
  • sitting time
  • Austria


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