The effect of COVID-19 restrictions on physical activity levels and mental well-being in adult females living in New Zealand : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Science in Nutrition and Dietetics, Massey University, Albany, New Zealand

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Background: Previous research has suggested positive associations between physical activity (PA), mental health (MH) and well-being, however the current literature also suggests that females are less active than males. With the arrival of Coronavirus (COVID-19), containment strategies were implemented to minimise the global spread of COVID-19, with varying degrees of physical containment and social isolation. These containment strategies have impacted individuals’ ‘normal’ daily routines and social lives, changed the way we work and reduced opportunities in typical avenues of PA including gyms, recreational facilities and sport. The impact of such restrictions on PA levels in females, and the effect on MH and well-being has not been described in the research to date. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to understand the effect of the New Zealand Government’s COVID-19 containment strategies on adult females’ PA and mental well-being. The researchers also sought to identify factors that influenced PA participation during these periods of social isolation and physical containment. Methods: Adult females residing in New Zealand (n = 1504; mean ± SD : age 48 ± 14 years, 83.4% New Zealand European) were recruited through a combination of convenience and snowball sampling and completed two amalgamated anonymous online surveys during Level 4 (L4) lockdown and Level 2 (L2) restrictions (Qualtrics; Survey 1 - 10-29th April 2020; Survey 2 - 5-18th June 2020) to assess PA via the International Physical Activity Questionnaire – short form (IPAQ-SF), MH via the Depression Anxiety Stress Scales-9 (DASS-9) and well-being via the World Health Organization Five Well-Being Index (WHO-5). PA level was classified as high (≥3000 MET·min·wk⁻¹), moderate (≥600 to 2999 MET·min·wk⁻¹) or low (˂600 MET·min·wk⁻¹). Factors that influenced PA participation were assessed as to whether they had no influence or some influence on PA participation. Results: Our participants were sufficiently physically active to meet the WHO and New Zealand PA guidelines, and more met the PA guidelines during L4 (94.1%) than pre COIVD-19 (79.4%) or during L2 (85%). Although PA was higher during L4, sitting time was also significantly higher when compared to L2 (449 ± 169 vs 426 ± 189 min·wk⁻¹). Well-being scores (WHO-5) were higher at L4 (59 ± 20) than at L2 (57 ± 20). DASS-Anxiety scores were lower at L4 (0.5 ± 1.1) than at L2 (0.6 ± 1.2), whereas DASS-Depression and -Stress scores were higher at L4 (Depression 1.9 ± 1.8, Stress 1.9 ± 1.6) than at L2 (Depression 1.6 ± 1.7, Stress 1.7 ± 1.6). Compared to those who participated in lower levels of PA (according to IPAQ classification), those who participated in higher levels of PA had higher WHO-5 scores at both L4 (66.3 ± 19.3, p < 0.001) and L2 (62.9 ± 19.6). The high IPAQ group also had lower DASS-Depression, -Anxiety and -Stress scores ([1.5 ± 1.6, p < 0.001][0.3 ± 0.9, p < 0.001][1.6 ± 1.5, p < 0.001]) compared to those in the low group. The major factors that influenced PA participation were time available, working situation and MH. Conclusions: These results support previous findings on the positive association between PA, MH and well-being in females and illustrates the importance of maintaining adequate PA levels during times of mental unease, such as during a global pandemic or periods of social isolation. Governments and public health advisers are encouraged to use the findings and recommendations in this report to encourage and promote PA in the event a situation such as COVID-19 was to arise again in the future in order to best preserve the mental well-being of females and other New Zealanders.
physical activity, well-being, mental health, COVID-19, coronavirus, females, New Zealand