Health science experts from USC have been chosen to lead the Australian arm of a study into how physical activity levels have been affected by the global COVID-19 pandemic.
The collaborative international study will canvass how the changes may have affected people’s mental health and overall wellbeing in the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Ireland and Australia.
Dr Daniel Wadsworth, Dr Mia Schaumberg and Associate Professor Chris Askew from USC are leading the Australian arm of the study and say the results will be used to help inform strategies to encourage physical activity during similar events in the future.
Dr Wadsworth, who is the chief investigator for the Australian research, says many people have experienced disruptions to their daily lives due to government restrictions to combat the spread of COVID-19.
“We will be interested to see how people have been affected in different ways,” Dr Wadsworth says.
“For example, someone normally commuting to work on their bike may find they are now exercising less, but for others the reverse might be true, and they now have more time to exercise with their family.”
The research team is also eager to draw links between how changes to physical activity might affect mental health and wellbeing.
“Exercise is medicine. It reduces your risk of chronic diseases and improves mental health and it’s something that’s fairly easy to take up if it’s accessible,” Dr Wadsworth says.
“I’m particularly interested in how we can improve accessibility to exercise opportunities for different sectors of society, for the elderly for instance, in situations like this where restrictions are in place.
“If we can boost physical activity, at an individual level, we would see enhanced levels of wellbeing and at a societal level, we would see less burden of care, opening up resources to be directed where they are most needed.”
The team will also look into mental impacts such as depression and anxiety, following up with surveys after restrictions are lifted.
Dr Schaumberg says another goal is to compare how different levels of restrictions in each country had impacted people differently.
“It is going to be particularly interesting to look at whether Australians, who have experienced a lower level of restrictions than residents in the UK and New Zealand, have been more active during this period, or whether people are making the most of exercise opportunities when there are restrictions on how long they can be outside,” she says.
“This is the first time we have seen restrictions like this in place in these countries, so it is an important opportunity for us to understand how people can be supported to stay active for their mental and physical health in future periods of restriction.”