COVID-19 CORONAVIRUS CRISIS: The impact of lockdown quarantine on weight, sleep and activity

COVID-19 CORONAVIRUS CRISIS: The impact of lockdown quarantine on weight, sleep and activity

There is no doubt the pandemic has changed many people’s daily habits around the globe. But some common assumptions about the effect this is having on our bodies just don’t add up when we look at the data. Read on to find out the sometimes surprising lockdown lowdown on weight, sleep, activity, temperature, and night heart rate—and what this might mean.

Weight gain under quarantine

Everyone is making bread, but maybe they aren’t eating it?

You can’t go on social media these days without being confronted by people showing off their culinary skills. Everyone suddenly seems to be making bread (and bragging about their starters), crafting decadent desserts, and producing elaborate meals. At the same time, these stay-at-home master chefs moan about all the weight they are surely going to gain. No doubt maintaining a healthy weight is important, but lots of articles talk of weight gain during this time like it’s a foregone conclusion, and how to avoid it. And when people share on social media that they’ve lost weight, others seem shocked, like it’s a magic trick to be able to do it at this time.

But although many fear self-isolation is leading to excessive comfort food weight gain, Withings has found that, actually, most people haven’t put on that many extra pounds. In fact, in the U.S., only 37 per cent of people have gained more than a pound, with the average U.S. weight gain at only .21 pounds (.095 kg). Other countries have seen similar weight gain trends of people gaining around a half of a pound or less. Globally, during self-isolation:

  • United Kingdom: the average person has gained .35 lbs (.16 kg)
  • Germany: the average person has gained .41 lbs (.189 kg)
  • China: the average person has gained .55 lbs (.25 kg)
  • Italy: the average person has gained .42 lbs (.195 kg)
  • France: the average person has only gained .19 lbs (.084 kg)

Obviously we can’t say for sure why this is. But perhaps it is because activity hasn’t decreased that much (more on that below), and perhaps it’s because research shows home-cooked meals are healthier because they cause people to eat more nutritious foods and take in fewer calories. So while we may be consumed by cooking and/or drooling over other people’s popovers, we aren’t packing on extra pounds.

Activity under lockdown

Maybe needing to walk around people makes you gain steps?

There is no doubt that being cooped up makes getting enough steps a challenge. However, Withings found many Americans aren’t letting self-isolation completely slow them down.

In the U.S., people have only decreased their daily steps by an average of 7 per cent during self-isolation compared to 12 per cent globally. New York, with its strict self-isolation guidelines, saw the largest decrease in daily steps —22 per cent. Surprisingly, some states have even registered increases in activity. Average daily steps have been higher in Indiana (increased 16 per cent), Connecticut (increased 11 per cent), West Virginia (increased 9 per cent), Ohio and Michigan (both states increased 6 per cent), and Louisiana (increased 4 per cent).

How has activity been impacted in other countries? We got that.

  • The United Kingdom has seen its activity levels impacted similarly to the U.S., with average daily steps decreasing by 8 per cent.
  • Germany has actually increased activity levels by 1 per cent during self-isolation.
  • China saw the biggest impact, with steps decreasing by over half (56 per cent) in Hubei. However, now that the country has lifted its self-isolation guidelines, the country is back up to its usual average steps.
  • Italy has also had a big decrease in daily steps, with their average steps decreasing by 28 per cent.
  • France is similar to Italy, seeing daily steps decrease by 27 per cent.

Activity trackers

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Workouts when social distancing

Downward dogging and disappearing into the woods are all the rage…

How are people staying active? Not much of a surprise here. YouTube yogis have seen great growth during the pandemic, and in our data, hard same.

Globally, people have really ramped up their yoga (increased by 42 per cent), started hiking more (increased by 34 per cent), hit the indoor cycles (increased 19 per cent) and are running more (increased by 18 per cent). Activities that include special equipment, gym access or specific courts have clearly taken a hit, including playing tennis (decreased by 66 per cent), swimming (decreased by 53 per cent), playing badminton (decreased by 50 per cent) and running indoors (decreased by 39 per cent).

Sleep and self-isolation

Tons more sleep when stuck at home—a pipe dream?

Schedules have been upended and many people are reporting bouts of insomnia, as well as especially vivid dreams they’re having faced with the threat of COVID-19.

But although we are closer to our beds than usual, Withings data shows that people aren’t sleeping a lot more. Americans are, on average, sleeping just 12 minutes longer a night than before self-isolation. In terms of going to bed, Americans are, on average, going to bed 11 minutes later than usual and waking up almost 26 minutes later than usual. No doubt not needing to get kids to school or make a morning commute is leading to a later wake-up time.

Withings Sleep Score is a measurement users get each morning of their previous night’s sleep. It shows how well they slept overall. They receive a score out of 100 points based on 6 key inputs, including duration of sleep, regularity of sleep and number of interruptions. In the U.S., Withings users have seen their Sleep Score increase by an average of 2 points during self-isolation.

As for sleep in other countries, it’s interesting that the country that has gained the least weight (France) has also seen the biggest sleep increase. The effect of sleep on weight is one we’ve seen many times. Here are the details:

  • United Kingdom: sleeping an average of 15 minutes more per night. Sleep Score increased by 2.58 points. People in the U.K. to bed around 8 minutes earlier than usual and woke up 9 minutes and 25 seconds later.
  • Germany: sleeping around 8 minutes and 27 seconds more per night. Sleep Score increased by 1.94 points as people went to bed almost 11 minutes earlier than usual and woke up 1 minute earlier than usual.
  • China: slept an average of 17 minutes and 25 seconds more per night during self-isolation. Sleep Score increased by 2.12 points, as bedtime was 12 minutes and 38 seconds later than usual and wake time around 32 minutes later than usual.
  • Italy: sleeping around 17 minutes and 39 seconds more per night. Sleep Score increased by 2.76 points. Users in Italy went to bed 2 minutes and 23 seconds later than usual and woke up 23 minutes later than usual.
  • France: had an average of 20 minutes and 40 seconds more sleep each night. Sleep Score increased by 3.09 points. We see users went to bed less than a minute earlier than usual and woke up 23 minutes and 27 seconds later than usual.

Overnight Heart Rate

Declaring “last call” may have made hearts beat slower…

An elevated or abnormal sleep heart rate could be caused by a number of short-term factors, including the use of tobacco or alcohol before bed. Other causes may include stress, vigorous exercise before bed, room temperature, or illness. Elevated sleep heart rate is particularly prevalent during weekends when alcohol consumption is most common.

Now, with many bars closed, distilleries making hand sanitizer, and scores of beer kegs not being drunk after events were cancelled, it is perhaps not surprising that according to Withings data, during self-isolation, people have had fewer sleep heart rate anomalies or irregularities, especially on the weekends. In the U.S., night heart rate anomalies have decreased by 43 per cent% during the weekends and by 34 per cent during the week. This compares to a global decrease of 45 per cent on the weekends and 34 per cent% during the week.

Looking at other countries, we saw a similar decrease.

  • United Kingdom: night heart rate anomalies have decreased by 44 per cent during the weekends and 38 per cent during the week.
  • Germany: night heart rate anomalies have decreased by 44 per cent during the weekends and 27 per cent during the week.
  • China: night heart rate anomalies have decreased by 30 per cent during the weekends and—surprisingly—increased by 3 per cent during the week.
  • Italy: night heart rate anomalies have decreased by 66 per cent during the weekends and 54 per cent during the week.
  • France: night heart rate anomalies have decreased by 60 per cent during the weekends and 50 per cent during the week.

Temperature

Some think they’re hot…

With fever being a major symptom of COVID-19, people have been, quite understandably, rushing to take their temperatures. The use of our smart temporal thermometer, Withings Thermo, nearly tripled in the early weeks of the outbreak, with people taking their temperatures multiple times a day. However, despite concerns, those registering fever temperatures have not changed compared to the seasonal norm.

#StayHomeStayHealthy

Methodology

This study was conducted by Withings, analyzing the anonymous aggregated data from over 2 million users, with at least 100,000 in each country. To create the data around the self-isolation time period for each country, Withings set each country’s start of self-isolation and included data from that date to April 18, 2020. The self-isolation data was compared to aggregated data from January 1, 2020, to the self-isolation date for each country.

Withings guarantees the confidentiality of personal data and protects the privacy of all its users. Therefore, all data used for this study was rigorously anonymized and aggregated in order to avoid any re-identification.

About Susie Felber, Withings

Susie is a writer, comedian, and producer who has worked in TV, film, theater, radio, video games, and online. As the daughter of a hard-working M.D., she's had a lifelong interest in health and is currently on a personal mission to "walk the walk" and get her writer's body in better shape.