Activity Bounces Back as Lockdowns Lift, but Some Healthy Gains Are Slipping

As cities and regions around the world loosen lockdown conditions, Fitbit users are stepping more but activity is not yet back to pre-pandemic levels. By early June, Fitbit users were moving far more than they did in April when restrictions were more strict. Still, activity was not back to 2019 levels—perhaps an indication that personal mobility won’t fully return to ‘normal’ until people feel safer. 

The same trend is evident internationally, with increases in steps since mid-May among Fitbit users in cities such as London, Tokyo, Madrid, Berlin, and Seoul. 

Harder to Maintain Health Gains

In May, we looked at the impact of the changing routines due to COVID-19 on our sleep and found that Fitbit users, on average, were sleeping 20 minutes more per night in April from a year earlier. In April, we also noted that resting heart rates were also improving—which means they declined—across the US amid the first weeks of shelter-in-place orders. The data also showed that, while step counts declined, active minutes increased for 42 percent of Fitbit users. This indicated that while we were stepping less, likely due to the lack of commuting and other daily activities, we were engaging in more vigorous and intentional activity, which is important for heart health.

Now, as restrictions lift, and our lives begin to return to our previous routines and patterns, some of those gains are slipping away. Broadly speaking, resting heart rates are increasing and sleep duration has started to diminish, the latest data from more than 4 million Fitbit users shows. 

Keeping the Momentum Going

As we noted in earlier blog posts, lower resting heart rates and more sleep are important factors in your overall health. With lockdowns in full swing in March and April, Fitbit data showed that we made important health gains even if we stepped less, by sleeping more and increasing our active minutes. As we adjust to our new routines post-lockdown, some users are holding on to healthy gains better than others into June in terms of: 

Resting heart rates. Resting heart rate is the number of times your heart beats per minute when you are still and at rest. This metric can be an important indicator of your fitness level and overall heart health. Resting heart rates are going back to seasonal norms for most groups, since hitting their healthiest level around late April. 

Men and women 65 years and older are doing better at holding onto resting heart rate gains made earlier in the lockdown periods, as are men ages 50 to 64. On the other end of the spectrum, men ages 18 to 29 posted less healthy resting heart rates in early June than they did the same time last year. 

Steps. Women ages 50 to 64 took more steps in mid-June than they did a year ago. They were the only group to surpass last year’s activity levels. For the same time period, men in the same age group were almost back to last year’s activity level. 

One group of users doesn’t seem to be bouncing back in the same way—younger Fitbit users continue to have lower activity levels. In terms of steps in June, both younger women and men remained below last year’s step activity level. Both groups had, however, increased activity from early April. 

Active minutes. Most age groups are back to seasonal normals for active minutes—which denote more vigorous activity—or are even doing more active minutes than before the pandemic. 

Overall, women are doing slightly better here, too. Women ages 30 to 49, for instance, put in an average of four more active minutes per day in early June than they did last year at the same time. 

Sleep duration. The length of our sleep peaked in late March and early April for most people, and especially for younger people and women. Sleep times are now decreasing and moving slightly toward normal, although they’re still higher than seasonal norms for all age groups and genders. This might be another good habit that people have grown to love and can retain, given that commutes remain limited. 

Cities Getting Back to Normal at Different Paces 

Some cities suffered bigger drops in mobility. New York, an epicenter of the pandemic, experienced a 22.5 percent drop in mobility in April from normal levels. In May, activity was 14 percent down from normal levels. 

Younger people in New York sustained the biggest activity drops, down 34 percent in April and 24 percent in May from normal levels. 

Paris also saw big swings, with step counts off normal levels by 25 percent in April and 10 percent in May.

The changes were less stark in San Francisco. Mobility was 17 percent off normal levels in April and 11 percent in May. Meanwhile, in Cork, Ireland, average step counts barely budged, off less than 4 percent in both April and May.

Getting Good Habits to Stick 

Even if we’re losing some good habits as restrictions lift, it’s not too late to keep the ones that enhanced our health while sheltering in place—or restart ones that we might be loosening up on as we shift back to our previous routines.

Many of us improved our bedtime consistency during lockdown. As routines shift, try to maintain a consistent bedtime routine. It’s good for your health and can help you fall asleep faster, which can be really helpful, especially during stressful times. For tips on this, read more here.

We know it can be hard to find time to stay active now that life is picking back up. Fitbit is offering a 90 day free trial of Fitbit Premium, with over and 150+ workouts of different lengths and activities from fitness brands like barre3, Daily Burn, POPSUGAR, and Yoga Studio by Gaiam, to help you stay active on your schedule.

Healthy habits start to stick after just two weeks, but a rock-solid habit takes about 10 weeks to fully develop, and 66 days is the point at which your new healthy habit should be fully formed. To help yourself make a new habit stick: set realistic and tangible goals, be consistent, and be patient.

Source: Based on aggregated and anonymous Fitbit user data from June 1-7, 2020 

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