From Giuntella et al:
COVID-19 has affected daily life in unprecedented ways. Drawing on a longitudinal dataset of college students before and during the pandemic, we document dramatic changes in physical activity, sleep, time use, and mental health. We show that biometric and time-use data are critical for understanding the mental health impacts of COVID-19, as the pandemic has tightened the link between lifestyle behaviors and depression. Our findings also suggest a puzzle: Disruptions to physical activity and mental health are strongly associated, but restoration of physical activity through a short-term intervention does not help improve mental health. These results highlight the large impact of COVID-19 on both lifestyle and well-being and offer directions for interventions aimed at restoring mental health.Abstract
Using a longitudinal dataset linking biometric and survey data from several cohorts of young adults before and during the COVID-19 pandemic (N=682), we document large disruptions to physical activity, sleep, time use, and mental health. At the onset of the pandemic, average steps decline from 10,000 to 4,600 steps per day, sleep increases by 25 to 30 min per night, time spent socializing declines by over half to less than 30 min, and screen time more than doubles to over 5 h per day. Over the course of the pandemic from March to July 2020 the proportion of participants at risk for clinical depression ranges from 46% to 61%, up to a 90% increase in depression rates compared to the same population just prior to the pandemic. Our analyses suggest that disruption to physical activity is a leading risk factor for depression during the pandemic. However, restoration of those habits through a short-term intervention does not meaningfully improve mental well-being.