British Columbia

Researchers study whether 'life in lockdown' is making us more active outside

Researchers from the University of the Fraser Valley are surveying people about their physical activity levels during the pandemic.

Survey looks at how physical activity outside during the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting mental health

Iris Lesser and Carl Nienhuis are with the Department of Kinesiology at the University of the Fraser Valley and have launched a physical activity survey along with a colleague from the University of Calgary. (Chris Corday/CBC)

A team of researchers, including two professors from the University of the Fraser Valley, is surveying Canadians to better understand how COVID-19 and physical distancing is affecting people's fitness routines and their mental health. 

With gyms closed and classes cancelled, many have headed outside for runs and walks, and the researchers believe that group includes those who did very little physical activity before restrictions were put in place. 

"I am seeing more and more people engaging in things like walking because they have the time," says Iris Lesser, an Assistant Professor of Kinesiology at the University of Fraser Valley's Chilliwack campus.

"Maybe there will be some good that will come out of this as well as we are forced to slow down"

Lesser and her team are hoping to find out whether people who spend time outside are faring better during this time than others. 

"If you are able to exercise outdoors does that have a better impact on your mental health?"

She has previously studied the impact of outdoor activity on anxiety in cancer survivors, and wonders how it is helping people cope during the pandemic.

The online survey, entitled "Life in Lockdown" has already been filled out by 800 people and Lesser is hoping for more respondents. 

A woman runs along the seawall in Stanley Park in Vancouver on Thursday, March 26, 2020. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Mental health

Lesser says on average Canadians tend to have a very sedentary lifestyle. According to a Statistics Canada report released last year, just 16 per cent of adults met daily recommended targets for physical activity. 

She suspects however that some may have started new habits since schools closed and restrictions were put in place, as people headed outdoors seeking fresh air and a chance to de-stress.

B.C.'s top doctor, Dr. Bonnie Henry, has encouraged people to get outside and take walks as family while keeping distance from others. 

"I think that is important for all of our mental and physical health," she said at a news conference in March.

The online survey asks participants questions about their current level of physical activity, and how it has changed over the past month. 

Lesser admits she has always been an exercise lover, but now is even more appreciative of it now, given that she no longer has access to child care for her preschool aged daughter. 

"Being able to take my daughter and go for a run outside has definitely been the best part of my day."

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Briar Stewart is a correspondent for CBC News. She has been covering Canada and beyond for more than 15 years and can be reached at or on Twitter @briarstewart


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