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Americans have taken fewer steps during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, and they still haven’t gotten their mojo back, a new study has found.
“On average, people are taking about 600 fewer steps per day than before the pandemic began,” said study author Dr. Evan Brittain, associate professor of cardiovascular medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville.
“For 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 around activities,” he said.
The study used data from the National Institutes of Health’s All of Us Research Program, which focuses on identifying ways to develop individualized healthcare. Many of the program’s 6,000 participants wore activity trackers for at least 10 hours a day for several years, allowing researchers access to their electronic medical records.
Brittain and his colleagues have used the resulting data before, publishing a study in October 2022 that found that overweight people could reduce their risk of obesity by 64% by increasing their steps from around 6,000 to 11,000 a day .
In the new study, published Monday in JAMA Network Open, researchers compared the steps of nearly 5,500 people who wore the program’s activity trackers. Most were white women, with an average age of 53.
Step counts collected between January 1, 2018 and January 31, 2020 were considered pre-Covid. Steps followed after this date through the end of 2021, the end of the study, were considered post-Covid.
The results showed no difference in identified step activity based on gender, obesity, diabetes, and other diseases or conditions such as coronary artery disease, hypertension, or cancer.
According to the study, people who took the fewest steps were socioeconomically disadvantaged, under psychological stress and unvaccinated.
Age also made a difference, but in an unexpected way: people over 60 were unaffected by the pandemic, according to the study — they continued to make progress.
Curiously, it was younger people, aged between 18 and 30, whose step count was affected the most, Brittain said. “In fact, we found that every 10-year decrease in age was associated with a reduction of 243 steps per day.”
“If this persists over time, it could certainly increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes and other conditions strongly related to physical inactivity,” Brittian said. “However, it is still too early to know if this trend will continue.”
Why would a younger generation lose steps while older people didn’t?
“I think it’s difficult to interpret because it’s only 600 steps, which you could argue is what some people would get from just going to work and going through their day,” said Dr. Andrew Freeman, director of cardiovascular prevention and wellness at National Jewish Health. a Denver hospital that was not involved in the investigation. “I think the question is who is more likely to work from home?”
Younger generations make up the majority of workers in technology, software and other jobs that can work from anywhere, “while older people may have fewer of those jobs,” Freeman said.
Whatever the reason, study data shows people haven’t moved as much as they used to during the pandemic. That’s worrying, Freeman added.
“If this trend continues, we should really be aware that if you’re working from home, you’re using either a stand-up desk, treadmill desk, or bike desk,” he said, adding that managers of remote workers are “on to it.” insisting that people take regular breaks get people to exercise, which has also been shown to improve mental clarity and sharpness,” he said.
Healthcare professionals should always talk to their patients about activity levels, but “the impact of Covid-19 could make it all the more important to discuss these types of messages with patients,” Brittain said.