You say crisis creates opportunities.
When COVID hit last year, Nicola Thomas lost access to her only form of exercise, the local swimming pool.
But when her children’s organized sports stopped, she suddenly had some time – and so she started running for the first time in 20 years.
“It has given me the opportunity to be out and about and do a lot more exercise than I normally would,” she said.
A normal day could begin with a 14-kilometer run.
“It actually helped me that I was able to increase my activity,” she said.
Nicola Thomas was able to increase her activity during the lockdown, but it wasn’t the same for everyone. (
Delivered: Nicola Thomas
People want to train in lockdown
There is no question that the COVID lockdowns have kept people’s minds focused on training.
“During the lockdown, online search activity for Google and YouTube has exploded, so there’s a lot of online interest in exercise,” said Melody Ding, associate professor at the University of Sydney’s School of Public Health.
She has researched exercise habits during the lockdown in Australia and one of her tools has been searching for exercise options online.
“The increase that we just saw on the day of the (first) closure was about ten times,” said Ms. Ding.
Melody Ding studied our exercise habits during lockdown. (
“We saw that the pattern seemed to change a little after the lockdown, it went down and then it went up again during that lockdown in Sydney.”
People’s motivation to exercise has ebbed and flowed during the various lockdowns over the course of the 18 months.
A report published by SportAus in June this year on the effects of COVID on exercise and physical activity found that last March, people first got more physically active before they wore off.
In the second Victorian lockdown, women became active again, but not so many men.
These data support the anecdotal evidence of Victorian gym owner Brad Cunningham.
Brad Cunningham saw many people prioritize their fitness during this lockdown. (
“I am finding that now in this sixth lockdown, people are going through this phase again where they think, ‘I have to do something now, we will be there a lot longer, so I’ I have to make my health and fitness a priority again and establish a routine, “he said.
But it’s not always easy
Not everyone finds it easy to exercise during lockdown.
Around 20 percent of Australians increased their physical activity during the pandemic, while around 20 percent did less, according to data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics released this week. The data was used in the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s report on the direct and indirect health effects of COVID-19.
According to Melody Ding, online searches for exercise options increased tenfold on the first day of the initial lockdown. (
And unsurprisingly, we’re a lot more on screens.
The ABS survey of the household impact of COVID-19 found that around 3 in 5 people spent more time on their phones, computers, televisions and other devices than they did before the pandemic.
For some people, being at home at home all day to get exercise can be a real stumbling block.
That was the case with Rima Younes, a social worker for a disability service in Sydney’s southwestern suburbs.
Rima Younes, who lives in one of Sydney’s 12 hotspot areas, has done less exercise.
Delivered: Rima Younes
She lives in Hurstville, a suburb of one of the 12 LGAs hotspots in Sydney that have had stricter lockdown restrictions than the rest of the state, including a one-hour training period that has just been lifted.
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“I’m not doing anything. I probably go for a walk every two or three days if that is the case,” she said.
“I used to run. After the last lockdown 18 months ago, I was having a really hard time starting again, but I had only just started and this lockdown just killed that. ”
She has friends and relatives who have had COVID, including an elderly relative who has died from the disease.
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“There is this feeling of fear of leaving the house and wearing the mask – it just seems like such an effort,” she said.
“I know people who have COVID and that only adds to my fear of not wanting to be outside.”
And then there is the pressure of their job.
“It is also very difficult because of my work, more of my participants are in crisis, I am constantly taking care of their needs.
“At the end of the day, I just can’t bring myself to do anything for myself other than just sit there and do nothing.”
Zip code can be a deciding factor
The environment is also a factor in explaining why some people leave home to exercise and others don’t.
“We know that training facilities and green spaces and blue spaces (access to water) – they tend to have socio-economic patterns too,” said Ms. Ding.
“Wealthier suburbs have more opportunities to get around and be outside, and quite the opposite for disadvantaged neighborhoods.”
People exercise on the boardwalk at Bondi Beach. (
AAP: Joel Carrett
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Lockdown isn’t too bad when you can swim on the beach or get your kayak out to paddle in the harbor instead of jogging the hot suburban streets.
This is one of the rifts in Sydney’s current lockdown. For example, Burwood in the inner west is one of the 12 areas of concern and also has the most people per hectare of parkland in the greater Sydney area.
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While Rima Younes says her suburb has beautiful bushland, she has to drive or walk a long way to get there. If she does, it will be very crowded.
Nicola Thomas, on the other hand, lives in Melbourne’s Eltham, where there are plenty of green spaces.
“I am very lucky that it is a green area with lots of trees and that I can go down to the river and walk along it.
Brad Cunningham saw this socio-economic divide because of the two gyms he owns – one in Melbourne’s suburb of Cheltenham on the Bay and the other in the regional Victorian town of Echuca.
Brad Cunningham has noticed a difference in training culture between Melbourne and regional Victoria.
“The culture in this area, it’s going down to the beach, it’s going out to be active, it’s going for a walk with your friends,” he said.
“And when I look at our regional institution, the culture there isn’t nearly as active.”
Mr Cunningham, who has three young children, says that making time to exercise can be incredibly difficult.
“When children are homeschooled, they try to work from home, have day-care-age children and they are not in day-care, there is a lot going on around the house,” he said.
“It makes it hard to really prioritize a decent amount of exercise or a decent intensity in your workout.”
He also said that people who worked from home tended to exercise less simply by missing random movements – going to the train or going for a coffee.
For many people, overall activity has decreased.
“Right now, people are sitting in their kitchen doing their work and they are going from the kitchen to the living room or the bathroom or something, they don’t move nearly as much, so the overall activity level is much lower,” he said.
But there could be a silver lining to the pandemic when it comes to how people exercise.
“It forces people to try different things,” he said.
“You can’t go to the gym, so I’ve noticed that people get more on their bikes or try yoga or pilates or do those online programs.
Lots of people try new things, like yoga. (
“There are a plethora of free exercise programs or apps that people can do and I would encourage people to try these things out and they might discover a new passion for movement or a new way of moving their bodies. I think that’s a positive result that comes out of it. “
Being stuck in lockdown can force some people to make the most of the time they have to exercise.
But for those of us who find it difficult, remember that every move helps – and it’s never too late to start.
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