COVID-19 Lockdowns: How Fitness Facility Users and Non-Users Adapted


Cassandra Beattie, Justin DeBlauw, Gina Besenyi, Emily Mailey, Katie M. Heinrich, FACSM

Introduction: Fitness facilities (FF; i.e., gyms, clubs, studios) are settings for physical activity (PA). Access to FF is related to meeting PA recommendations. Other PA settings include sidewalks, parks, trails, neighborhoods, and homes. COVID-19 restrictions and shutdowns compromised access to FF nationwide, creating a unique PA barrier for FF users. Purpose: The purpose of this study was to identify changes in PA levels of FF users and non-users during the onset of COVID-19 restrictions and shutdowns. Methods: From April-June 2020, an online survey was distributed asking adult participants to identify and describe PA changes as a result of COVID-19. Responses of somewhat/frequent FF users (n = 542; M age = 36.9 ± 14.9 years; 67.7% female) and non-users (i.e., rarely or never use FF) (n = 403, M age = 40.8 ± 14.4 years; 77.0% female) were analyzed. Participants reported weekly PA minutes in various settings before and during COVID-19, access to FF, and if their FF closed. Paired samples t-tests were used to identify significant PA changes within groups and change scores were calculated for PA settings. Results: Median weekly PA for both groups met recommendations (Before: non-FF users: Median ± SE = 210.0 ± 15.4, FF users: 405.8 ± 13.3; During: non-FF users: 300.0 ± 20.1, FF users: 390.0 ± 14.67). PA increased significantly from before to during COVID-19 amongst non-FF users (t[400] = -5.63, p < 0.01). No significant changes in PA occurred amongst FF users (t[540] = 0.512, p= 0.61). The setting with the largest increase in PA was at home for both nonFF users (M ± SD = 75.3 ± 237.6) and FF users (130.2 ± 188.3). This increase was followed by neighborhoods (non-FF user: 32.2 ± 137.1; FF user: 53.1 ± 148.7) and parks (non-FF user: 5.8 ± 133.3; FF user: 27.6 ± 117.6). The largest decrease in location was at FF by FF users (-197.2 ± 152.9). Most FF users’ facilities closed (n = 511, 98.5%) leaving few with access (n = 15, 1.7%). Conclusion: FF users found alternative settings to maintain PA levels during a worldwide pandemic. Non-FF users managed to increase PA. Community based options may be sufficient to maintain PA in the absence of FF availability. Future research should examine motivational factors of FF users as they appear highly motivated to continue PA despite barriers.

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