Rebecca Meiring is a lecturer in the Department of Exercise Science at the University of Auckland. She researches activity monitoring using accelerometry, the impact of physical activity on lifestyle disease, and the impact of different types of exercise training on physiological health.
She is working with Dr Jayden Hunter on a study of the impact of the COVID-19 lockdown on physical activity and workplace wellbeing. In particular she wants to explore people’s perceptions of barriers to exercise. As she explains:
We know that physical activity has a relationship with work productivity, and we want to look at how this relationship is effected by the COVID-19 lockdown.
Rebecca had published a prior study on the perceived impact of the COVID-19 lockdown on physical activity in New Zealand adults.
Her research is based on the New Zealand experience. New Zealand’s lockdown period was less stressful than the Australian experience, as it lasted 50 days in total. A contributing factor to the ability to maintain engagement in exercise in New Zealand could have been the government messaging – people were actively encouraged to engage in some exercise but stay within a certain distance of their home
Some other key findings included:
- The majority of respondents took part in regular physical activity prior to the lockdown period. Only half of those were able to maintain their current level of activity during the lockdown period.
- The main barrier to exercise was that their exercise facilities (e.g., gym) were closed, followed by being afraid to go out, and being unable to exercise in a social group or with their friends.
- Previous studies have also reported that a lack of time, cost, and not knowing what to do, are common barriers that prevent people from engaging in physical activity.
Rebecca is keen to emphasise a really important result:
Those people who continued to maintain their usual level of physical activity throughout the lockdown recognized the importance of exercise on their well-being, especially mental health.
A similar association was seen in adults in Australia, who reported that a decrease in physical activity levels was associated with an increase in depression, anxiety and stress.
The collaboration with Dr Hunter is an extension of that work. Their study specifically targeted white collar workers, who work at a desk and are sedentary for long periods of time.
The team are still analysing their results, but one of the key findings is that even though people who met the physical activity guidelines had a better work ability, job performance was lower. Rebecca found this reflected in her personal experience. She has two young children, so she found the lockdowns particularly challenging with the demands of work and child-care but actually found her activity went up as she needed to get out of the house for regular runs!
Rebecca is keen to research how the way we work and exercise changes in the post COVID-19 world. As she says:
As exercise scientists who study the relationship between exercise, well-being and performance at work, our findings are applied in workplace wellbeing programs. If the way we are working is changing, these workplace wellbeing programs have to change as well.
Further questions remain as to whether there may be lingering anxiety in people wishing to take up exercise, especially those who fall within the vulnerable category for lifestyle disease.
Rebecca recommends that workplaces offer additional support for people with anxiety over returning to work, and people who stop exercising and do not resume after the lockdown period of the COVID-19.
Want to learn more?
Take 10 with Exercise Scientist, Rebecca Meiring (the University of Auckland)
This research supports the HRI aims to:
- optimise function and performance for all individuals, and
- address the global challenges of inactivity and chronic disease