Fitbit Research Reveals Renewed Focus On Our Health During COVID-19

According to a recent survey, people are becoming more conscious of their personal health and activity in the wake of local lockdowns and are placing greater priority on improving their health and wellbeing. While most respondents stated that they had developed healthier habits during the first wave of the pandemic, the pandemic has also identified new health challenges, such as an increase in stress. This research was conducted by surveying 1,002 people across South Africa during the month of August.Respondents were asked to share their perception of their personal health, stress and lifestyle habits in the wake of COVID-19. This research was analysed alongside anonymous and aggregated Fitbit user data also from South Africa (SA) from 24 February to 29 August 2020, that assessed sleep, activity and step data.2

The survey found that 27% of SA participants were paying some attention to their personal health prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, but now as we are learning to live longer term with the impact of the pandemic, more than half of respondents in the UAE (83%) stated that they are prioritising their personal health now more than ever.

“The external research when paired with the Fitbit user data has indicated that the South African population is now definitely keen to adapt a healthier lifestyle and are taking positive steps towards improving their personal overall wellbeing. We feel that COVID-19 related changes have given an opportunity to people to slow down and take necessary actions around improving personal health and their wellness,” said Prateek Kewalramani, Senior Manager of Middle East & Africa at Fitbit.

What We Have Learnt

As the number of daily COVID-19 cases have increased again6, Fitbit is encouraging consumers to take the positives and learnings of their personal health from the first wave of lockdowns to help guide and optimise their overall health and wellbeing throughout the coming months.

At the start of the pandemic, daily routines were turned upside down, SA survey participants said they took steps to improve their personal health.

  • More than half (58%) of consumers surveyed have experienced a positive change when it comes to their personal health throughout the pandemic, stating that they have developed healthier personal habits and behaviours.1
  • These changes were most notable in younger age groups in SA, with 63% of 18-24-year-olds surveyed, claiming to have developed healthier habits, compared to 50% of over 55–year-olds.1    
  • Sleep was one of the biggest positive changes noted in SA. Improvements in sleep were seen in over half of the responses with survey participants (55%) getting a longer night’s rest.1
  • There were also some respondents who improved their sleep practices by going to bed earlier (40%) and getting up earlier (36%).
  • Although, some female survey respondents in SA (46%1) reported feeling like their sleep has been negatively affected due to stress, they are still sleeping longer and keeping a better sleep routine.

“Similar optimistic trends were also observed in the Fitbit user data for SA; like the duration of sleep increased by an average of over 20 minutes per night compared to the same period last year, and in particular women between 18-29 year were able to get an additional 29 mins per night during lockdown. Furthermore, even as we try to return to our schedule in this new normal, sleep duration is still 4% higher than 2019 levels. Considering the overall positive effects of getting a better night sleep, such effects might be indicated as a silver lining of the pandemic if such a trend continues for the long term. 2 Anyone who is looking for tools to understand and improve one’s sleep, could try using one of our Fitbit devices with sleep tracking functionality along with Fitbit Premium’s personalized insights and guided programs”said Prateek Kewalramani.2

The next 12 months looks set to be just as challenging with COVID-19 still looming over us. When SA survey respondents were asked in which areas of their life they would like more support and motivation to develop better personal health habits, exercise topped the poll (52%), followed by everyday activeness (43%) and stress management (40%).1 This research demonstrates that many people within  SA are looking to form new healthier habits they could maintain with some additional support and Stress management resources.

Activity and Steps

During COVID-19 our NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis)dropped and Fitbit SA users’ step count declined2due to less natural moments of activity throughout the day. We are missing the simple daily routine activities such as walking the kids to school, walking to and from the bus stop to work or taking the stairs during our coffee breaks.  While some UAE survey respondents reported increased levels of exercise and activity due to the extra time they had at home, Fitbit data has proven that we may not be as active as we thought.

“Although the higher impact activities such as running and workout saw an increase of 7% as compared to last year amongst the Fitbit SA users, but at the same time we also have seen a decline in steps and active minutes across Fitbit users in the SA and it has still has not returned to the same levels as last year, indicating that overall, we are becoming more sedentary.2 For maintaining healthier lifestyle- both physically and mentally, it is important to continually move our bodies throughout the day and take regular breaks to keep a balance in activity levels,” said Prateek Kewalramani.

Increased Stress Levels

While most people experienced improvements in their activity and sleep levels, levels of stress are higher as the pandemic has evolved, with more than half of those surveyed in SA (66%) saying that their stress levels were higher as a direct result of COVID-19.1

Key findings from the survey of SA respondents in relation to stress included:

  • 70% of 18-24-year-olds experiencing an increased level of stress.1
  • Women are feeling the effects of stress more, with female respondents more likely to have a lack of energy (47%). Women also reported that stress negatively impacts their moods and their ability to concentrate.1
  • Working from home also brought stressful challenges for the survey respondents, with the primary issue being the inability to differentiate between work and personal life with more than half of all the respondents (55%) said they struggled to distinguish between the working day and the weekend.1
  • 45% of people stated that they have worked more hours while working from home and nearly a quarter (28%) also felt that their mental wellness has been negatively impacted as a result of working from home.1

“The survey results have shown that SA residents’ in some ways have embraced positive habits during this time. Some have developed new hobbies and increased the amount of quality time with family (77%) an improvement in their diet was also seen (64%) due to remote working. As COVID-19 has opened conversations around a renewed focus on improved health and wellness the survey shows that South Africans cultivated healthier lifestyle habits as a result of the pandemic (68%).,” said Dr Ashika Pillay, wellness expert working with Fitbit.   

It is not surprising that the emergence of COVID-19 has increased people’s stress levels. The survey indicates that two thirds (66%) of South Africans’ stress levels are higher since the outbreak of COVID-19. Although, 18% of respondents reported having lower stress levels now. Top five areas of life negatively impacted by stress was mood (55%) and Sleep (44%)1.Important to consider is that, while acute stress can be useful and motivating, chronic stress puts a load on the body, in particular the cardiovascular and immune systems. It sets the stage for chronic illness. Finding appropriate mechanisms such as practicing mindfulness and meditation to deal with chronic stress physically, mentally and emotionally is crucial to building resilience, and overall wellbeing”, added Dr Pillay.

The new Fitbit Sense has the world’s first electrodermal activity (EDA) sensor on a smartwatch to help manage stress. The combined on-device and in-app stress management experience with Fitbit Sense gives you insights into your body’s response to stress with tools to help you manage both your physical and mental stress. It can help you track key trends in your health and wellbeing, which includes a new Stress Management Score based on your heart rate, sleep and activity levels. Paired with a free six-month trial of Fitbit Premium5, you will be able to see a further breakdown of your Stress Management Score that shows you what is impacting your stress score from your responsiveness, exertion balance and sleep patterns.

To find out more about Fitbit Sense with 6 months of free of Fitbit Premium, visit Fitbit app or

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