Changes in Physical Activity and Sedentary Behavior in Response to COVID-19 and Their Associations with Mental Health in 3052 US Adults

Jacob Meyer, Cillian McDowell, Jeni Lansing, Cassandra Brower, Lee Smith, Mark Tully, Matthew Herring

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The COVID-19 pandemic altered many facets of life. We aimed to evaluate the impact of COVID-19-related public health guidelines on physical activity (PA), sedentary behavior, mental health, and their interrelations. Cross-sectional data were collected from 3052 US adults 3–8 April 2020 (from all 50 states). Participants self-reported pre-and post-COVID-19 levels of moderate and vigorous PA, sitting, and screen time. Currently-followed public health guidelines, stress, loneliness, positive mental health (PMH), social connectedness, and depressive and anxiety symptoms were self-reported. Participants were grouped by meeting US PA guidelines, reporting ≥8 h/day of sitting, or ≥8 h/day of screen time, pre-and post-COVID-19. Overall, 62% of participants were female, with age ranging from 18–24 (16.6% of sample) to 75+ (9.3%). Self-reported PA was lower post-COVID among participants reporting being previously active (mean change: −32.3% [95% CI: −36.3%, −28.1%]) but largely unchanged among previously inactive participants (+2.3% [−3.5%, +8.1%]). No longer meeting PA guidelines and increased screen time were associated with worse depression, loneliness, stress, and PMH (p < 0.001). Self-isolation/quarantine was associated with higher depressive and anxiety symptoms compared to social distancing (p < 0.001). Maintaining and enhancing physical activity participation and limiting screen time increases during abrupt societal changes may mitigate the mental health consequences.

Original languageEnglish
Article number6469
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages13
JournalInternational Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
Issue number18
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 5 Sept 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Conflicts of Interest: This research received no specific grant from any funding agency, commercial or not-for-profit sectors. C.M. is funded by the Irish Research Council under the Government of Ireland Postdoctoral Programme. M.T. receives funding from the HSC Research and Development Directorate of the Public Health Agency (Northern Ireland) as Director of the Northern Ireland Public Health Research Network. M.T. is an unpaid member of the Public Health Agency (Northern Ireland) COVID-19 Scientific and Technical Cell. All other authors declare no other potential conflicts of interest.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.

Copyright 2020 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Loneliness
  • Mental health
  • Physical activity
  • Public health
  • Screen time
  • Sedentary
  • Sitting time


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