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Decline in Exercise Linked to Higher Depression During Pandemic

WEDNESDAY, March 24, 2021 -- The COVID-19 pandemic has caused large disruptions to physical activity, sleep, time use, and mental health among young adults, according to a study published March 2 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Osea Giuntella, Ph.D., from the University of Pittsburgh, and colleagues linked biometric and survey data from several cohorts of college students before and during the COVID-19 pandemic (682 students) to assess changes in lifestyle and mental health.

The researchers found that at the onset of the pandemic, average steps declined from 10,000 to 4,600 steps per day, sleep increased 25 to 30 minutes per night, time spent socializing declined by more than half to less than 30 minutes, and screen time more than doubled to more than five hours per day. From March to July 2020, the proportion of participants at risk for clinical depression ranged from 46 to 61 percent, an increase of 90 percent in depression rates versus the same population just prior to the pandemic.

"Before the pandemic, there was not a very strong connection between changes in physical activity and mental health, but our analyses suggest that disruption to physical activity is a leading risk factor for depression during this period," the study authors said in a statement.

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