Duncan GE, Avery AR, Seto E, Tsang S
Physical distancing and other COVID-19 pandemic mitigation strategies may have unintended consequences on a number of health behaviors and health outcomes. The purpose of this study was to investigate the association between perceived change in physical activity or exercise and mental health outcomes over the short-term in response to COVID-19 mitigation strategies in a sample of adult twins.
This was a cross-sectional study of 3,971 identical and same-sex fraternal adult twins (909 pairs, 77% identical) from the community-based Washington State Twin Registry. Participants in this study completed an online survey examining the impact of COVID-19 mitigation on a number of health-related behaviors and outcomes, administered between March 26 and April 5, 2020. In the present study, the exposure was perceived change in physical activity or exercise. The outcomes were levels of perceived anxiety and stress.
More twin pairs reported a decrease in physical activity levels (42%) than those reporting no change (31%) or increased physical activity levels (27%). A perceived decrease in physical activity or exercise was associated with higher stress and anxiety levels. However, the physical activity–stress relationship was confounded by genetic and shared environmental factors. On the other hand, the physical activity–anxiety relationship held after controlling for genetic and shared environmental factors, although it was no longer significant after further controlling for age and sex, with older twins more likely to report lower levels of anxiety and females more likely to report higher levels of anxiety.
Strategies to mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic may be impacting physical activity and mental health, with those experiencing a decrease in physical activity also having higher levels of stress and anxiety. These relationships are confounded by genetic and shared environmental factors, in the case of stress, and age and sex, in the case of anxiety.
Perceived change in physical activity levels and mental health during COVID-19: Findings among adult twin pairs. Aug 13 2020. PLoS ONE 15(8): e0237695.