CSRI students study physical activity during pandemic

COVID-19 disrupted a lot of summer plans, but three Cornell College students didn’t let it stand in their way for completing their research.

Three students, Alexis Woywod, Katie Wycoff, and Kyle Jussila, originally planned to do a Cornell Summer Research Institute (CSRI) project on the biomechanics of the knee, but without being able to come together on campus they needed to change their plans. The group decided to use their interest in physical activity and the pandemic to examine COVID-19’s impact on physical activity and mental health.

It all started when they noticed that the physical activity habits of those around them started to change when the lockdowns began. Along with Assistant Professor of Kinesiology Justus Hallam, they shared an anonymous survey across social media channels. The survey collected 610 responses from an array of people who answered questions about occupation, location, age, and mental and physical health. The students split the data into three sections for each of them to analyze: age, occupation, and location.

Woywod, a kinesiology major, chose to focus on occupation, and sorted the responses into more general categories, such as healthcare, teacher/professor, retired, student, and stay-at-home parent. 

She studied comparisons between different occupations, which include average step count by month, fear of COVID-19, and self-reported mental health ratings before and after the pandemic started. The research team discovered that there was a strong correlation between people’s occupation and how they felt about the dangers of the virus.

“It has been really interesting seeing how different professions have been affected by COVID-19,” Woywod said.

“We found that step counts of students and teachers dropped significantly when lockdowns or stay at home orders started in March,” Hallam said. “The step counts of stay-at-home parents actually started to go up when lockdowns started. While we are hesitant to draw too firm of conclusions, it would make sense that parents who had kids at home all day, as opposed to them being at school, increased their steps. We also saw that retirees had the greatest increase in step counts among any group once the pandemic started.”

Assistant Professor of Kinesiology Justus Hallam
Assistant Professor of Kinesiology Justus Hallam

Hallam and his students also found that individuals self-reported that their feelings of mental well-being went down among all groups and ages once the pandemic started, with the largest decrease seen in healthcare workers. They plan to further analyze how location affected physical activity habits and the perceived threat of COVID-19, as well as how purchases related to physical activity connected to the timing of the pandemic. 

“I hope that we’re able to find out which groups might need more support and information about physical activity and mental health during a time like this,” Woywod said. “During such an unprecedented time, I think having more information on how individual groups are being affected is really important.”

The group plans to give a presentation of their complete findings to the Cornell community in the spring.