A study conducted by University of the Fraser Valley (UFV) kinesiologists found that women suffered more than men when physical activity was limited by COVID.
The study looked at restrictions that were put in place during the early days of the pandemic, including the closure of gyms, fitness studios, parks and playgrounds.
One thousand and 98 people participated in the study, 215 men and 871 women.
According to Dr. Iris Lesser, an assistant professor of kinesiology at UFV, the women experienced more mental health struggles as the days and weeks went by.
The study found that women who were less physically active because of the pandemic had lower mental health scores and higher anxiety. Women maintaining a higher level of physical activity saw that reflected in better mental health scores and lower anxiety.
“Women are statistically shown to be more anxious and less physically active than men, and COVID-19 restrictions made it even more challenging for them to keep up with physical activity, further impacting their mental health,” said Dr. Iris Lesser, assistant professor of kinesiology, in a UFV Today blog post.
Lesser and UFV colleague Dr. Carl Nienhuis conducted the study, which was published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.
Many women already struggled before COVID to find a balance between their work and home lives. The pandemic added more barriers, including the need to provide 24 hour care for children who would normally spend a chunk of their day at school or daycare.
Lesser said it was disappointing when playgrounds were closed for a time, even if the intention was good. It cut off one avenue for women to get outside and stay active.
“We recognize that the threat posed by the pandemic is real and that the barriers were intended for our benefit,” she noted. “But we also need to consider the impact on physical activity and mental health.”
After looking at the data, the UFV research team suggested more effort should be made to “encourage and promote physical activity options that allow parents to be active with their children.”
“Given the challenges that women uniquely face due to pandemic restrictions, we need to find ways to provide environments and support for physical activity to reduce the mental duress that some women are experiencing,” Lesser said. “We need to aim for physical activity options that can include and engage children.”
The UFV School of Kinesiology is currently involved in more research through Moms on the Move, an outdoor group fitness program meant to help women who are experiencing anxiety after childbirth.
Anyone who wants to participate is asked to email Dr. Gillian Hatfield at firstname.lastname@example.org.