How Has the COVID-19 Crisis Affected Mental Health and Physical Activity? Participate in the ACTIVID Project

How Has the COVID-19 Crisis Affected Mental Health and Physical Activity? Participate in the ACTIVID Project

07.7.2020
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[Authors: Guillem Vich and Mònica Ubalde, members of Urban Planning, Environment and Health Initiative at ISGlobal]

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Spanish government declared a state of alarm on 14 March and implemented a series of drastic non-pharmaceutical measures to “flatten the curve” and slow the spread of the infection.

While these drastic measures appear to have lowered the COVID-19 infection rate, their impact on other aspects of health—especially in socially vulnerable people—is not yet well understood. Quarantines are known to have negative physical, psychosocial and economic impacts on populations that can affect rates of morbidity and mortality. In the United Kingdom, for example, data collected before and after the peak of the COVID-19 outbreak revealed changes in citizens’ mental health; high rates of anxiety (36%) and depression (39%) were recorded immediately after the government issued a stay-at-home order.

While these drastic measures appear to have lowered the COVID-19 infection rate, their impact on other aspects of health—especially in socially vulnerable people—is not yet well understood

Some data suggest that the perception of loneliness and social disconnection has increased. Previous studies have shown that health crises can cause anxiety levels to spike as the affected population faces a general feeling of uncertainty, vulnerability and risk. Environmental disasters that have led to confinement measures and stay-at-home orders, such as the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident, have also been associated with higher levels of chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

It is very likely that physical and social distancing, combined with strict home confinement and mobility restrictions, have affected behaviours that have an impact on people’s health, including exercise habits, sleep patterns, alcohol consumption and smoking.

In city centres, the lockdown order may have had an especially large impact on levels of physical activity, since urban dwellings tend to be smaller than rural homes and often lack private access to outdoor spaces (gardens, terraces, balconies, etc.), so the opportunities for exercise at home and access to natural landscapes are limited. Ample evidence shows that physical activity (especially outdoors) and access to nature provide multiple physical and mental health benefits that are especially important for higher-risk populations. Outdoor exercise has also been shown to provide greater benefits than indoor exercise. Conversely, while exercise can have a positive impact on health, the reduction or suspension of this activity has a negative effect on people’s overall mood and well-being.

It is very likely that physical and social distancing, combined with strict home confinement and mobility restrictions, have affected behaviours that have an impact on people’s health, including exercise habits, sleep patterns, alcohol consumption and smoking

In the early days of the strict lockdown ordered during Spain’s state of alarm, drastic reductions in levels of air pollution (64%) and physical activity (38%) were observed. These changes were even greater in densely populated urban areas. For example, the city of Barcelona saw a 70%-80% drop in pollution levels and a 50% reduction in noise levels, mainly due to the decrease in traffic and industrial activity. Scientists and public health authorities are keen to understand how pollution, noise levels and health-related behaviours such as physical exercise have changed as a result of confinement orders and other measures adopted during the state of alarm and how these changes may have affected people’s physical and mental health.

Introducing the ACTIVID project

In order to address these health challenges, ISGlobal’s Urban Planning, Environment and Health Initiative is coordinating a new research project called ACTIVID. The aim of this project is to assess the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the environmental exposures (air pollution, noise, contact with green spaces), physical activity levels and mental health of people living in Spain during these unprecedented circumstances. The study will investigate how the changes prompted by the state of alarm have affected environmental health and exercise habits and help us understand how these changes have influenced people’s mental health and well-being.

The aim of this project is to assess the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the environmental exposures (air pollution, noise, contact with green spaces), physical activity levels and mental health of people living in Spain during these unprecedented circumstances

Given the strain on the resources and personnel of the public health system, ACTIVID will look beyond COVID-19 itself to quantify the health impacts—and related factors and behaviours—brought about by control measures implemented during the state of alarm. The study aims to identify the population groups at the greatest risk of health problems, analyse geographical differences (e.g. rural versus urban) and inform the design of future health interventions. The findings of this study are expected to be helpful to the authorities responsible for making decisions during health crises. They will also be useful in the design, implementation and assessment of evidence-based public health policies to prevent and mitigate negative psychosocial and health impacts on society at large.

The ACTIVID study will follow an innovative multi-methodological approach that integrates traditional information sources with new innovations. Information will be obtained through online questionnaires and combined with objective, high-temporal-resolution data on health and behaviour collected via Garmin and Suunto smartwatches. The use of smartwatches in scientific research is on the rise, thanks to their ability to provide biometric information not recorded by devices such as smartphones and accelerometers.

Are you interested?

If you...

  • are 18 years of age or older
  • can speak and read Spanish
  • lived in Spain when the state of alarm came into effect

...then you can participate in the ACTIVID study!

  • As a participant, you will be asked to complete a survey on your health history, mood, physical activity habits, and COVID-19 exposure and symptoms.
  • Once a month for six months, you will also have the option of completing a short follow-up survey online.

If you have a Garmin wearable device, you will be invited to share your physical activity data. This information will be stored on a secure internal ISGlobal server for a maximum of six months from the start of the study. You may withdraw your consent to our use of this data at any time.

Participants who complete the study will be entered in a raffle to receive €50. This monetary compensation will be randomly assigned to 40 participants. The ACTIVID project aims to recruit around 2,000 participants.

Are you interested? Click on the link to participate in the ACTIVID project!