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People Took Fewer Steps After Pandemic Started, Study Shows

March 20, 2023 — People took fewer daily steps after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and haven’t gotten back up to their old numbers yet, according to a study published Monday in JAMA Open Network.

Researchers looked at the number of steps recorded on fitness devices worn by about 5,500 people over four years. Steps taken from Jan. 1, 2018, to Jan. 31, 2020, were considered pre-pandemic and steps taken from June 1, 2020, until the end of 2021 were considered post-COVID. Most of the participants were white women with an average age of 53.

“On average, people are taking about 600 fewer steps per day than before the pandemic began,” said study author Evan Brittain, MD, associate professor of cardiovascular medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, according to CNN.

“To me, the main message is really a public health message — raising awareness that Covid-19 appears to have had a lasting impact on people’s behavioral choices when it comes to activity.” 

Researchers found no significant step activity because of sex or medical conditions such as obesity, diabetes, coronary artery disease, hypertension, or cancer. 

People who were socioeconomically disadvantaged, under psychological stress, and not vaccinated tended to show a decrease in steps, the study showed. Age also made a difference, but in a surprising way. People over 60 kept their steps up, but people between 18 and 30 showed a decrease.

“In fact, we found every 10-year decrease in age was associated with a 243-step reduction per day,” Brittain said, according to CNN.

A physician who was not involved in the study told CNN that the drop in steps for younger people may have occurred because they were more likely to work in tech, software, and other jobs in which they could work from home.

“I think it’s difficult to interpret because it’s only 600 steps, which you could argue is what some people would get simply walking into work and through their day,” said Andrew Freeman, MD, director of cardiovascular prevention and wellness at National Jewish Health in Denver. 

Still, the overall findings were worrisome for the researchers. “These findings suggest a consistent, widespread, and significant decline in activity following the onset of COVID-19 in the U.S.,” they concluded.