The sedentary lives UK workers developed during the Covid-19 pandemic present a long-term health risk, according to a health insurance provider that found one in five people who work from home are exercising less often.
Bupa’s Wellbeing Index survey found that 29% of UK adults said their physical health had worsened during the pandemic, exacerbated by lockdowns and working from home.
Data derived from 58,000 Bupa health assessments in 2021 showed 41% of people were overweight, 21% had a body mass index score that placed them in the obese category, and 81% had some sort of musculoskeletal issue that affected their mobility.
Thirty-one per cent of the almost 8,000 people surveyed said their fitness was poor, with those in the 35-44 age bracket the most likely to say they were unfit. Even as restrictions were lifted, 31% said they were eating more and 15% were drinking more alcohol than before Covid.
However, there were signs that people wanted to improve their health and wellbeing. Almost nine in 10 (89%) said their heath was now a top priority, significantly more than those prioritising their career (51%).
Thirty-five per cent wanted to cut down on unhealthy foods and 22% wanted to reduce alcohol intake. Thirty per cent said they would walk or exercise more regularly and 28% wanted to get better sleep.
Dr Robin Clark, medical director for Bupa Global and UK, said: “Lockdowns, gym closures and general uncertainty made it difficult for many people to prioritise their health during the pandemic.
“And despite restrictions ending, it looks like as a nation we’re still struggling to stay active and eat well. With the unfortunate consequence that it may take years for our health to return to pre-pandemic levels.
“This is worrying because the World Health Organisation has identified exercise and physical activity as one of four lifestyle habits – alongside a healthy diet, avoiding harmful use of alcohol and not smoking – which will dramatically reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.”
The survey’s findings echoed a University of Wolverhampton study that found UK participants reported low levels of perceived physical health and greatest weight gain during the pandemic, compared with respondents across the globe.
“Collectively the Bupa Wellbeing Index and research exploring the impact of the pandemic on health sends out an important message – that being the value of investing in our present and future self by improving our health behaviours,” said Tracey Davenport, professor of applied sport and exercise sciences at the University of Wolverhampton.
“For example, we saw that participants with the highest increase in physical activity during the pandemic reported significantly higher increase in sleep and lower weight gain. Improving health, as the Bupa Wellbeing Index reports, is commonly identified to be a personal priority.
“Many people report that the most difficult step in exercising is the one out of the front door. So, set a goal of developing a regular physical activity habit, the intensity, distance or duration of the activity is less important. Once a habit has been established, then think about how to build on that.”