Physical activity favors mental health during confinement, according to a study by UNIR and other universities

The decrease in physical activity during confinement caused psychological problems in the adult population, according to a study by the International University of La Rioja (UNIR) and other Spanish universities.

This work describes the effect of physical activity on the psychological health of the population during confinement, based on the systematic review of scientific evidence on the impacts of the pandemic.

It is a first step in an investigation to determine if sports practice can be a good strategy to contribute to emotional well-being in the event of a pandemic.

“Confinement caused psychological disorders in people, more in adults than in children. On the other hand, it is evident that the population sought resources to practice sports, using technology”, indicates María Gloria Gallego-Jiménez, researcher of UNIR in the project.

The other researchers are Verónica Violant-Holz (main researcher) and Manuel José Rodríguez, both from the University of Barcelona (project coordinator); Carina S. González-González, from the University of La Laguna; Sarah Muñoz-Violant, from The University of British Columbia in Vancouver; and Oriol Sansano-Nadal and Myriam Guerra-Balic, from the Ramon Llull University of Barcelona.

The study ‘Psychological Health and Physical Activity Levels during the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Systematic Review’, published by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health (Vol. 17, Issue 24), analyzes the scientific literature linking physical activity and mental health during confinement.

180 scientific articles published from January 1, 2019 to July 15, 2020 have been studied in all research databases, of which, after applying the inclusion and exclusion criteria, only 15 have been eligible for this study.

This systematic review summarizes the existing evidence on the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on psychological well-being in adult populations and the effects obtained from physical activity on psychological health during that period.

The articles reviewed reflect that the pandemic and the lockdown measures caused stress, anxiety, social isolation, and psychological distress in adults, as well as higher-than-usual levels of depression and anxiety among the front-line medical staff.

In addition, several studies specifically refer to how adults became more sedentary during quarantine and decreased their levels of physical activity with harmful psychological results.

Further research is needed to clarify whether physical activity can be an effective strategy to prevent the negative psychological effects of the pandemic.

This input, as indicated in this work, could serve institutional leaders and governments, as well as health professionals and researchers, to inform clinical and political decisions in the face of other possible pandemics.

This research is based on the participation of the team in the international research project ‘Psychological Responses, Coping Strategies and Physical Activity during the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Multiple Country Comparison Study GCH Research Team’, led by Dr. Yang, from Nationwide Children’s Columbus Hospital (Ohio). This is the first initiative to study the relationship between physical activity and mental health during the pandemic, in which 15 countries have collaborated.

The study ‘Psychological Health and Physical Activity Levels during the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Systematic Review’, is available at this link:

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