Fitbit users renewed focus on health amid COVID-19, research reveals

According to a recent survey, local lockdowns and the pandemic have made people more conscious of their personal health and activity and they are placing greater priority on improving their health and wellbeing.

While most respondents stated that they had developed healthier habits during the first wave of the pandemic, new health challenges have emerged, such as an increase in stress.

This research was conducted by surveying 1,002 people across South Africa during August. Respondents were asked to share perception about their personal health, stress and lifestyle habits in the wake of COVID-19. This research was analysed alongside anonymous and aggregated Fitbit user data also from South Africa from 24 February to 29 August 2020, that assessed sleep, activity and step data.

READ MORE: 4 Ways Wearable Tech Is Making You Fitter

The survey found that 27% of local participants were paying some attention to their personal health prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

But now as we are learning to live longer term with the impact of the pandemic, more than half of respondents stated that they are prioritising their personal health now more than ever.

“We feel that COVID-19 related changes have given an opportunity to people to slow down and take necessary actions around improving personal health and their wellness,” said Prateek Kewalramani, Senior Manager of Middle East & Africa at Fitbit.

Key learnings

As the number of daily COVID-19 cases increase again, Fitbit is encouraging consumers to take the positives and learnings of their personal health from the first wave of lockdowns to help guide and optimise their overall health and wellbeing throughout the coming months.

At the start of the pandemic, when daily routines were turned upside down, local survey participants said they took steps to improve their personal health.

  • More than half (58%) of consumers surveyed have experienced a positive change when it comes to their personal health throughout the pandemic, stating that they have developed healthier personal habits and behaviours.
  • These changes were most notable in younger age groups in SA, with 63% of 18-24-year-olds surveyed, claiming to have developed healthier habits, compared to 50% of over 55–year-olds.
  • Sleep was one of the biggest positive changes noted in SA. Improvements in sleep were seen in over half of the responses with survey participants (55%) getting a longer night’s rest.
  • There were also some respondents who improved their sleep practices by going to bed earlier (40%) and getting up earlier (36%).
  • Although, some female survey respondents in SA (46%1) reported feeling like their sleep has been negatively affected due to stress, they are still sleeping longer and keeping a better sleep routine.

Sound sleepers

Similar trends emerged from local Fitbit user data, where sleep duration increased by an average of over 20 minutes per night compared to the same period last year. In particular, women between 18-29 years were able to get an additional 29 minutes per night during lockdown.

Furthermore, even as we try to return to our schedule in this new normal, sleep duration is still 4% higher than 2019 levels. Considering the overall positive effects of getting a better night sleep, such effects might indicate a silver lining to the pandemic, if such a trend continues for the long term.

And with no end immediate resolution in sight to the pandemic, SA survey respondents were asked in which areas of their life they would like more support and motivation to develop better personal health habits.

Exercise topped the poll (52%), followed by everyday activeness (43%) and stress management (40%). This research demonstrates that many South Africans are looking to form new, healthier habits that they can maintain with some additional support and stress management resources.

Impact on activity and Steps

During COVID-19 our NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis) dropped and Fitbit SA users’ step count declined due to less natural moments of activity throughout the day.

Although the higher impact activities such as running and workout saw an increase of 7% as compared to last year among the Fitbit SA users, we also saw a decline in steps and active minutes across Fitbit users in country. This figure has still not returned to the same levels as last year, indicating that overall, we are becoming more sedentary.

Increased stress levels

Understandably, stress levels have risen as the pandemic has evolved, with more than half of those surveyed in SA (66%) saying that their stress levels were higher as a direct result of COVID-19.

Key findings from the survey of SA respondents in relation to stress included:

  • 70% of 18-24-year-olds experiencing an increased level of stress.
  • Women are feeling the effects of stress more, with female respondents more likely to have a lack of energy (47%). Women also reported that stress negatively impacts their moods and their ability to concentrate.
  • Working from home also brought stressful challenges for the survey respondents. The primary issue cited is the inability to differentiate between work and personal life, with more than half of all the respondents (55%) said they struggled to distinguish between the working day and the weekend.
  • 45% of people stated that they have worked more hours while working from home and nearly a quarter (28%) also felt that their mental wellness has been negatively impacted as a result of working from home.

Positive outcomes

But positives also emerged. Survey results show that SA residents developed new hobbies and increased the amount of quality time with family (77%), and improved their diet (64%) due to remote working.

“As COVID-19 has opened conversations around a renewed focus on improved health and wellness, the survey shows that South Africans cultivated healthier lifestyle habits as a result of the pandemic (68%).,” said Dr Ashika Pillay, wellness expert working with Fitbit.

“Finding appropriate mechanisms such as practicing mindfulness and meditation to deal with chronic stress physically, mentally and emotionally is crucial to building resilience, and overall wellbeing”, added Dr Pillay.

Get a sense of stress

The new Fitbit Sense has the world’s first electrodermal activity (EDA) sensor on a smartwatch to help manage stress. The combined on-device and in-app stress management experience with Fitbit Sense gives you insights into your body’s response to stress with tools to help you manage both your physical and mental stress. It can help you track key trends in your health and wellbeing, which includes a new Stress Management Score based on your heart rate, sleep and activity levels.

READ MORE: Fitbit Debuts Sense, Its Most Advanced Health Smartwatch

Paired with a free six-month trial of Fitbit Premium5, you will be able to see a further breakdown of your Stress Management Score that shows you what is impacting your stress from your responsiveness, exertion balance and sleep patterns.

To find out more about Fitbit Sense with 6 months of free of Fitbit Premium, visit the Fitbit app or Fitbit.com.

Author: Pedro van Gaalen

When he’s not writing about sport or health and fitness, Pedro is probably out training for his next marathon or ultra-marathon. He’s worked as a fitness professional and as a marketing and comms expert. He now combines his passions in his role as managing editor at Fitness magazine.

When he's not writing about sport or health and fitness, Pedro is probably out training for his next marathon or ultra-marathon. He's worked as a fitness professional and as a marketing and comms expert. He now combines his passions in his role as managing editor at Fitness magazine.

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