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People drank more alcohol, exercised less and ate less healthily during first lockdown

Written by on 7 January 2021

Britons drank more alcohol, ate fewer fruit and vegetables and exercised less during the first national lockdown, a study has suggested.

Younger people, women and those who are overweight were more likely to have adopted unhealthy lifestyle choices last spring, the research by the University of East Anglia (UEA) shows.

The study of more than 1,000 people also indicates that women drank alcohol more frequently, but men consumed greater quantities of it in one sitting.

On average, those surveyed ate one less portion of fruit and vegetables per day during the lockdown and there was a 20% reduction in days of 30 minutes of exercise or more.

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The study saw participants sign up to a daily lifestyle survey in April 2020 and answer questions for three months.

Dr Felix Naughton, of the UEA School of Health Sciences, said his team found people did “significantly less” exercise after the UK first locked down on 23 March.

Although they found a 15% increase in strength training, he said that those who are most at risk from coronavirus – the elderly, overweight and those with underlying conditions – were the ones exercising the least.

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“We know that exercise helps improve immune function and could contribute to an increase in deconditioning and functional decline, particularly among older people – so the fact that those who are most at risk of being severely affected by COVID-19 were doing the least exercise is a worry,” he said.

“We recognise that social distancing and shielding can make exercise more difficult, so finding ways around this is important.”

He added that key workers, men and older people were more likely to drink alcohol in greater quantities on one day.

Meanwhile women and young people were generally associated with drinking more often.

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Professor Caitlin Notley, from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, added: “It’s not surprising that restrictions on movement outside the house and difficulty getting groceries in the early days of lockdown may have led to a less healthy lifestyle for many.

“It is critical now that we reflect on these changes so that we can advise people of how best to protect their health for any future lockdowns.”

England yesterday went into its third national lockdown, with schools expected to reopen in mid-February and restrictions starting to be eased by March.