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Impacts of the first year of COVID-19 on physical activity

Impacts of the first year of COVID-19 on physical activity

04 April 2022

Sport NZ study shows COVID-19 pandemic has had significant impact on physical activity

Sport NZ has published a study into the impact of the COVID-19 which shows the pandemic has severely affected participation in physical activity across Aotearoa New Zealand.

Sport NZ, together with academics from Victoria University of Wellington, conducted the study following a series of surveys of between 2,500- 4,500 adults (18 years and older) between April 2020 and April 2021.

It showed that as the country emerged from the first lockdown in June 2020, participation in weekly physical activity was significantly 5.7% lower than before the pandemic.  That trend continued, and from June 2020 through April 2021, while there were variations in the participation rates of physical activity, the big picture was one of a large and sustained decline in physical activity when compared to pre-pandemic.

The key findings of the research are:

  • The proportion of people participating in any ‘physical activity in the past week’ dropped significantly to 5.7% below pre-pandemic levels by June 2020.
  • By April 2021, this was still 3.4% below pre-pandemic levels.
  • The mean number of physical activities people participated in each week decreased by more than 20% compared to before the pandemic.
  • The mean hours of physical activity people participated in each week was 15% below pre-pandemic levels by April 2021.
  • The proportion of adults meeting physical activity recommendations dropped significantly to 5% below pre-pandemic levels, and had not recovered by April 2021.

Lead academic Associate Professor for Sport NZ, Justin Richards, says it is clear from this study that the pandemic has affected the habits of people across Aotearoa New Zealand when it comes to physical activity.

“Given that New Zealand had relatively few social restrictions one year into the pandemic, it is concerning that activity didn’t return to normal levels, and this suggests an impact on habitual physical activity.“

Sport NZ CEO, Raelene Castle, says these insights are important for the sector, as it recovers from the impact of the pandemic.

“Sport NZ’s purpose is to get Every Body Active, and now more than ever, we need to make sure

everyone understands the value of physical activity for their mental and physical wellbeing.

“There has been significant investment into the sector to assist in the recovery from the pandemic, but we also understand the challenges people encountered with continuing their normal activities, like going to the gym or playing organised sport, due to the restrictions imposed to keep the country safe. 

“As those restrictions begin to ease, we will continue to work closely with our partners to encourage New Zealanders to ensure physical activity becomes a part of their everyday lives.”



Download the academic paper with the full set of findings here.

Learn more about Sport NZ’s response to the pandemic here.


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Michelle Pickles

Group Media Manager

Mobile: 021 833 244

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