Changes in physical activity and sedentary behavior during the first COVID-19 pandemic- restrictions in Germany: a nationwide survey : Running head: physical activity during the COVID-19 restrictions


  • F. Herbolsheimer
  • A. Peters
  • S. Wagner
  • S.N. Willich
  • L. Krist
  • T. Pischon
  • K. Nimptsch
  • S. Gastell
  • M. Brandes
  • B. Brandes
  • T. Schikowski
  • B. Schmidt
  • K.B. Michels
  • R. Mikolajczyk
  • V. Harth
  • N. Obi
  • S. Castell
  • J.K. Heise
  • W. Lieb
  • K. Franzpötter
  • A. Karch
  • H. Teismann
  • H. Völzke
  • C. Meinke-Franze
  • M. Leitzmann
  • M.J. Stein
  • H. Brenner
  • B. Holleczek
  • A. Weber
  • B. Bohn
  • A. Kluttig
  • K. Steindorf


  • BMC Public Health


  • BMC Public Health 24 (1): 433


  • BACKGROUND: The COVID-19 pandemic restrictions posed challenges to maintaining healthy lifestyles and physical well-being. During the first mobility restrictions from March to mid-July 2020, the German population was advised to stay home, except for work, exercise, and essential shopping. Our objective was to comprehensively assess the impact of these restrictions on changes in physical activity and sedentary behavior to identify the most affected groups. METHODS: Between April 30, 2020, and May 12, 2020, we distributed a COVID-19-specific questionnaire to participants of the German National Cohort (NAKO). This questionnaire gathered information about participants' physical activity and sedentary behavior currently compared to the time before the restrictions. We integrated this new data with existing information on anxiety, depressive symptoms, and physical activity. The analyses focused on sociodemographic factors, social relationships, physical health, and working conditions. RESULTS: Out of 152,421 respondents, a significant proportion reported altered physical activity and sedentary behavioral patterns due to COVID-19 restrictions. Over a third of the participants initially meeting the WHO's physical activity recommendation could no longer meet the guidelines during the restrictions. Participants reported substantial declines in sports activities (mean change (M) = -0.38; 95% CI: -.390; -.378; range from -2 to + 2) and reduced active transportation (M = -0.12; 95% CI: -.126; -.117). However, they also increased recreational physical activities (M = 0.12; 95% CI: .117; .126) while engaging in more sedentary behavior (M = 0.24; 95% CI: .240; .247) compared to pre-restriction levels. Multivariable linear and log-binomial regression models indicated that younger adults were more affected by the restrictions than older adults. The shift to remote work, self-rated health, and depressive symptoms were the factors most strongly associated with changes in all physical activity domains, including sedentary behavior, and the likelihood to continue following the physical activity guidelines. CONCLUSIONS: Mobility patterns shifted towards inactivity or low-intensity activities during the nationwide restrictions in the spring of 2020, potentially leading to considerable and lasting health risks.