Impact of COVID-19 on Physical Activity Among 10,000 Steps Members and Engagement With the Program in Australia: Prospective Study

J Med Internet Res. 2021 Jan 25;23(1):e23946. doi: 10.2196/23946.


Background: Physical activity is an important health behavior, due to its association with many physical and mental health conditions. During distressing events, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a concern that physical activity levels may be negatively impacted. However, recent studies have shown inconsistent results. Additionally, there is a lack of studies in Australia on this topic.

Objective: The aim of this study is to investigate changes in physical activity reported through the 10,000 Steps program and changes in engagement with the program during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Methods: Data between January 1, 2018, and June 30, 2020, from registered members of the 10,000 Steps program, which included 3,548,825 days with step data, were used. The number of daily steps were logged manually by the members or synced automatically from their activity trackers connected to the program. Measures on program usage were the number of new registered members per day, the number of newly registered organizations per day, the number of steps logged per day, and the number of step entries per day. Key dates used for comparison were as follows: the first case with symptoms in Wuhan, China; the first case reported in Australia; the implementation of a 14-day ban for noncitizens arriving in Australia from China; the start of the lockdown in Australia; and the relaxing of restrictions by the Australian Government. Wilcoxon signed-rank tests were used to test for significant differences in number of steps between subgroups, between engagement measures in 2019 versus 2020, and before and after an event.

Results: A decrease in steps was observed after the first case in Australia was reported (1.5%; P=.02) and after the start of the lockdown (3.4%; P<.001). At the time that the relaxing of restrictions started, the steps had already recovered from the lockdown. Additionally, the trends were consistent across genders and age groups. New South Wales, Australian Capital Territory, and Victoria had the greatest step reductions, with decreases of 7.0% (P<.001), 6.2% (P=.02), and 4.7% (P<.001), respectively. During the lockdown, the use of the program increased steeply. On the peak day, there were more than 9000 step entries per day, with nearly 100 million steps logged per day; in addition, more than 450 new users and more than 15 new organizations registered per day, although the numbers decreased quickly when restrictions were relaxed. On average per day, there were about 55 new registered users (P<.001), 2 new organizations (P<.001), 25.6 million steps (P<.001), and 2672 log entries (P<.001) more in 2020 compared to the same period in 2019.

Conclusions: The pandemic has had negative effects on steps among Australians across age groups and genders. However, the effect was relatively small, with steps recovering quickly after the lockdown. There was a large increase in program usage during the pandemic, which might help minimize the health impact of the lockdown and confirms the important role of physical activity programs during times of distress and lockdowns.

Keywords: COVID-19; behavior; eHealth; engagement; exercise; lockdown; pandemic; physical activity.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Australia / epidemiology
  • COVID-19 / epidemiology*
  • COVID-19 / psychology
  • Exercise / physiology
  • Exercise / psychology*
  • Female
  • Fitness Trackers*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pandemics
  • Prospective Studies
  • SARS-CoV-2 / isolation & purification
  • Walking / physiology
  • Walking / psychology*
  • Young Adult