As the world continues to adjust to our new normal of living between lockdowns and a pandemic, Fitbit aggregated user activity data between March and September of 2020 shows how users have adapted during this unprecedented time by embracing new activities despite facing challenges such as closed gyms, remote work, and a host of other factors pushing people towards a more sedentary lifestyle.
Earlier Fitbit data found that daily step counts decreased by as much as 38 percent in certain global regions in response to pandemic lockdowns. Similarly, a study from Business Facilities in March found that the U.S. increased its average workday by almost 40 percent, adding an extra three hours, the largest jump worldwide. But this decrease in steps and increase in work time, doesn’t mean we’re not finding ways to stay active.
The latest findings from our research team’s review of aggregated user data reveal key trends:
- Stress relieving activities and activities that don’t require gym-access are on the rise. Meditation, for example, increased 2,900 percent globally and even more in certain countries like the UK and New Zealand.
- Active minutes are down around the world—a change from our earlier research in June which found active minutes increased as steps declined.
- Even though active minutes have been decreasing since June, Fitbit users are exercising with more intensity in certain activities, particularly opting for stress relieving and non-gym activities like meditation, yoga, pilates, running, and hiking.
- Steps are still down overall around the world.
- Sleep duration is up around the globe—but especially in Latin America.
With these trends, the research shows how people around the world have adapted to global pandemic-induced lockdowns. In order to compare the data and explore these trends, the research team had to compare last year to this year to get a better look into activity patterns.
What we studied
To identify the differences the pandemic has driven in the Fitbit community around the globe, the Fitbit research team analyzed aggregated, anonymous population level data from Fitbit users ages 18 to 80 with a BMI of 15 to 60 across tens of million Fitbit users from March 1 to September 30, 2020 as compared to the same time period in 2019, including step counts, active minutes, and activity types.
What we found
Overall, throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, our research team found that workout intensity with activities like running increased, and stress reducing activities like meditation and yoga gained popularity throughout the world. Interestingly, certain activities like meditation, hiking, and running have become even more popular in specific countries like New Zealand, Sweden, and South Africa, respectively.
When the team dug deeper into the data, they saw that the majority of activities that gained popularity or remained consistent happened to be activities that we typically associate with stress reduction. High intensity exercise is already known to reduce stress on a chemical level—whether it’s stimulating endorphin levels in the brain in what’s typically referred to as a “runner’s high” or reducing stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. Similarly, mindfulness activities like meditation, yoga, and pilates are known to help stimulate serotonin and endorphins while reducing those same stress hormones.
Workout Intensity Increases
As mentioned above, step counts still remain lower across the board. Although the intensity of active minutes have been increasing since the start of the pandemic, the total active minutes have decreased for every age group and gender from March through September 2020 compared to last year. However, the intensity of active minutes actually increased compared to last year with the exception of men between 18 and 49 years old. For reference, when we describe “intensity of active minutes,” we’re describing the differing levels of low, moderate, and intense activity that we use in our active minute calculations.
So are people more or less active now than before the pandemic? Well, that depends on your definition of active. Our data shows that users are taking fewer steps and achieving fewer active minutes. However, because they gained more intense active minutes, our data also shows how Fitbit users might be pursuing activities with more intensity and ultimately using their time more efficiently to achieve results.
Calming our Nerves During the Pandemic
While logging meditation as exercise had a massive 2,900 percent average increase for all age groups of Fitbit users around the world, there was also a surprising increase in cardio-focused activities that don’t require a gym like kickboxing, jumping rope, and rollerblading.
Without access to gyms, Fitbit users have turned to activities they can do at home or on their own in an attempt to adapt to the challenges of our environment during COVID-19 restrictions. For 18-29 year old Fitbit users, both roller blading and yoga nearly tripled in popularity as compared to the same time period last year, and for all age groups kickboxing increased an average of 38.8 percent. For context, during this time period there was also a global bike shortage as people sought out a new activity during the quarantine that didn’t require a gym.
Global Activity Patterns
While all of these activities spiked globally, certain countries saw larger increases in specific activities representing the trend of Fitbit users shifting to activities that don’t require a gym. Some notable regional increases include:
- Meditation: New Zealand had the largest spike in meditation with a massive 9,017.5 percent increase, followed by Great Britain, which had an impressive 7,350 percent increase compared to the global average (percent increase versus global average).
- Hiking: Sweden saw the largest increase in hiking at 181.3 percent. In comparison, Canada came up in fourth place with a 102.9 percent increase in hiking activity.
- Running: Spiked the most in South Africa with a 99.24 percent increase, and jumped in Singapore by 50.5 percent.
- Inactivity: Active minutes intensity decreased overall in Latin America. In fact, Latin America was the outlier in multiple variables like activity counts, most likely because COVID arrived later in LATAM than in other markets. Read more here about the impact of COVID-19 around the world in this past blog post.
As the data shows, the lockdown has sparked a massive global increase in both stress-reducing activities as well as activities that don’t require a gym. Whether it’s the soaring popularity of meditation or the renewed interest in hiking in countries like Sweden, the data reveals the ability for humans to adapt to their surroundings to find healthy outlets in challenging circumstances.
Whatever activities you decide to pursue, make sure to take care of yourself and your health. To support you and your health, we’re offering a 90-day free trial of Premium for new Premium users to help you stay active, sleep well, and manage stress—check it out here. Fitbit Premium uplevels your Fitbit experience, unlocking deeper analysis of your data and more personalized insights that connect the dots across your activity, sleep, and heart rate.
This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.