Unique Study Counted Steps During Covid Lockdown

A street scene in Yerushalayim during a pandemic lockdown. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

In a first-of-its-kind study, researchers from Tel Aviv University and the Academic College of Tel Aviv-Yaffo used smart watches and a dedicated app to monitor 169 subjects before and during Israel’s second COVID-19 lockdown (October 2020). The watches and app provided the researchers with accurate daily data for measuring quality of life parameters, such as mood, stress, duration and quality of sleep, heart rate at rest, meeting others and physical exercise.

The data collected in the study indicate that, in general, during lockdown the subjects slept slightly more (6:08 vs. 6:01 hours) met fewer people face to face (11.5 vs. 7.8 daily encounters), exercised less (30 vs. 27 minutes), walked less (daily step count of 8,453 vs. 7,710) felt less happy (0.87 vs. 0.76 on a scale of -2 to 2) and exhibited a lower heart rate at rest (62.6 vs. 62.1 beats per minute).

Among younger participants, a more substantial drop was registered in the daily step count: from 9,500 steps before to 8,200 steps during the lockdown. In comparison, the average daily step count in the 60+ age group decreased from 7,500 to 7,200.

The lockdown was also detrimental to the younger subjects’ mood. On a scale of -2 to 2, their average score declined from 0.89 before to 0.72 during the lockdown, while older subjects reported a smaller decrease – from 0.85 to 0.8.

Analysis by gender revealed that while men’s stress level decreased from -0.79 before to -0.88 during the lockdown, women’s stress rose from -0.62 to -0.52. The researchers suggest several possible explanations for these findings:

First, according to the Israeli Ministry of Finance, more women lost their workplace (fired or sent to unpaid vacation) than men. Second, schools and daycares were closed during lockdowns and parents of young children had to stay with them at home. Several studies reported that during lockdowns, men were more concerned about paid work while women were more worried about childcare.

Moreover, the lockdown was more ‘effective’ in keeping women from meeting others face to face. While for men, the number of such encounters decreased from 11 to 9, women reported a sharper decline from 12 to 7 daily encounters on average. Face to face encounters, even a random meeting with a neighbor or a bus driver, are known to improve people’s mood and reduce depression and anxiety.

The study was conducted by a group of experts from the Iby and Aladar Fleischman Faculty of Engineering at Tel Aviv University led by Dr. Erez Shmueli, Dr. Dan Yamin, Shay Oved and Merav Mofaz, in collaboration with TAU’s Prof. Noga Kronfeld Schor of the School of Zoology at the George S. Wise Faculty of Life Sciences and the Sagol School of Neuroscience, and Dr. Anat Lan and Prof. Haim Einat of the Academic College of Tel Aviv-Yaffo. The study was recently published at the leading Journal of the Royal Society Interface.