The coronavirus outbreak appears to be having an unlikely impact on Irish society – potentially improving the general health of the public through a major increase in personal exercise.
According to researchers at Trinity College Dublin (TCD), almost half of 1,500 people surveyed were found to be exercising more often than they would have done before the pandemic.
"And with more than 50 per cent of people now meeting recommended physical activity guidelines, this represents a significant, positive increase compared to what was seen in the last Healthy Ireland Survey conducted in 2019," they said on Monday.
It is a rare upside to the virus outbreak which has caused major disruption to Irish life because of essential public health measures and social restrictions.
The findings form part of the preliminary results of a Trinity physiotherapy survey assessing the amounts, motivators and barriers to physical exercise during the pandemic.
However, while 46 per cent of people felt they were exercising more since restrictions were put in place, over a quarter of respondents (28 per cent) reported the opposite behaviour.
Key to the overall public health picture though is that 54 per cent of people are meeting the recommended physical activity guidelines - a minimum of 30 minutes moderate activity for five days of the week.
"People haven't let the closure of gyms, classes or the 5km distance restriction limit their ability to exercise and are finding new ways to be active," said Dr Emer Barrett, assistant professor in physiotherapy at the university.
“It is very encouraging to see that there is a strong awareness of how physical activity can positively impact mental and physical health particularly at this time of crisis.”
Crucially, Dr Barrett observes, there is a need to understand what will motivating people to maintain the pattern once the public health emergency eases. Over 70 per cent of respondents indicated they felt it more important to exercise since the outbreak.
The study also found that almost 90 per cent of people reported walking in the last seven days while half of people looked for alternative forms of exercise, including online workouts.
Dr Cuisle Forde, also an assistant professor in physiotherapy, said there was a need to understand why such a relatively high proportion of people said they were exercising less frequently.
“Our research will allow us to identify whether the decline in their activity is as a result of cocooning, work commitments, or caring for children or dependant others,” Dr Forde said. A full analysis of the survey findings will be presented at a later date.