Food behaviors, movement behaviors and sleep: what links?

Physical activity is associated with improved eating habits during the COVID-19 pandemic

Physical activity eating habits - GFVN - February 2023
Correspondence author
Wagner L. Prado California State University, USA

COVID-19 pandemic has led to major transformation worldwide (Wang, 2020). In order to limit the spread of the virus, governments implemented new measures as several lockdown periods, social distancing and telecommuting. While, as never before, we were encouraged to follow a healthy, active and balanced lifestyle, these new measures led to massive school, firm and sport club closure. This was followed by profound changes in our way of life by notably increasing our sedentary behaviors, as screen time, and drastically decreasing physical activity (Rogers, 2020).

A recent study (Christofaro, 2021), conducted on 1,874 brazilian in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, aimed to evaluate and quantify the modifications in daily physical activity and eating habits and to test their potential associations.

Only 30% of participants were engaged in physical activities during COVID-19 pandemic

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the study reported that only 30% of the participants, in average, were engaged in some forms of physical activity and considered active (≥150 min of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per week). Women reported being more active than men and presented lower body mass index.

This discrepancy may be explained by the social distancing requirements applied during the pandemic on activities mainly practiced by men such as the closure of the gyms and the restriction of other activities (e.g., team sports and football). In contrary, physical activity related to domestic services which disproportionately affect women, was increased.

As physical activity has been previously associated to numerous health benefits, the maintenance of physical activity during global pandemics should be considered and be particularly promoted.

Physical activity was positively associated to healthier eating habits and more fruit and vegetables intake

Participants reported consuming more fruit (26% of participants) and vegetables (26.6% of participants) but also fried foods (19% of participants) and sweets (42.5% of participants) during COVID-19.

Moreover, physical activity and eating habits showed an association and especially with the consumption of fruit, vegetables, fried foods and sweets. Participants who were physically active, were less likely to increase their consumption of fried foods and sweets. The modification of eating habits may also be due to the stress and anxiety caused by lockdown, social isolation and the fear of the virus but also of a possible food storage during the pandemic.

An increase in physical activity favor healthier eating habits by reducing anxiety, increasing energy expenditure and improving metabolism

Despite the association found, the cross-sectional design of this study prevents any cause-and-effect determination between regular physical activity and eating habits. Periods of lockdown and the related decrease in physical activity levels and healthy eating habits may contribute to favor weight gain et metabolic diseases. In contrast, an increase in physical activity may reduce anxiety, increase energy expenditure and improve metabolism to finally favor healthier eating habits.

This study provides new evidence concerning the link between physical activity and eating behaviors. It highlights the scope of the pandemic effects on daily habits and supports the need to continue promoting regular physical activity to favor healthy lifestyle and better health, especially during pandemics.

Based on: Diego GD et al. Physical Activity Is Associated With Improved Eating Habits During the COVID-19 Pandemic. Frontiers in Psychology, 12 April 2021; 12: 664568

Key messages
  • COVID-19 pandemic led to a decrease in physical activity and to a modification of our eating habits.
  • During the pandemic, Brasilian adults included in this study consumed higher amount of fruit, vegetables but also sweets and fried foods.
  • Physical activity was positively associated to healthier eating habits and inversely related to lower consumption of sweets and fried foods.
  • This association could be explained by the fact that an increase in physical activity reduce anxiety, increase energy expenditure and improve metabolism.
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