Daily step counts dropped significantly in early stages of pandemic, study finds

Daily counts of steps taken decreased significantly in the early stages of the pandemic, indicating a drop off in physical activity, a new study suggests.

The study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, included data for 455,404 users of a free Apple and Android smartphone app that tracks daily steps. More than 19 million step count measurements were recorded from 187 countries, including the U.S., from Jan. 19 to June 1.

Within 10 days of the World Health Organization declaring the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic March 11, there was a 5.5 percent average decrease in step counts worldwide. Within 30 days of the pandemic declaration, there was a 27.3 percent drop in step counts.

Researchers found a wide variation in the average step count change in different regions of the world. After the pandemic declaration, the U.S. experienced a 15 percent decrease in step counts in 15 days, while Italy saw the same decrease in 5 days and Japan in 24 days.

"Governments and policymakers should be aware of the impact of social-distancing measures on decreasing physical activity, since physical activity is an important determinant of health," said Geoffrey Tison, MD, lead study author and a cardiologist at University of California San Francisco Health.

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