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Association between physical activity and psychological distress during COVID-19: A longitudinal study of older adults in Quebec

AdultsOlder AdultsExerciseCOVID-19
  Virtual session

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Background: In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Quebec government imposed physical distancing and confinement measures to curb the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The collateral consequences of these measures may result in increased psychological distress, especially among older adults who are already prone to feelings of isolation and loneliness. Some health behaviours, such as engaging in physical activity (PA), can act as resilience factors against psychological distress [1,2,3]. Therefore, it is important to identify coping strategies that may mitigate the risk of psychological distress in older adults.

Objectives: To examine the association of psychological distress with PA in older adults across three time points during the COVID-19 pandemic, during the first wave (T1-Spring 2020), the first deconfinement period (T2-Summer 2020), and the second confinement period (T3-Fall 2020). 

Methods: Our sample included 577 older adults at T1 (mean age = 79.13 yr, SD=5.43); 390 participants remained involved at T3 (attrition rate: 67.5 ). During telephone-based interviews, participants completed the Kessler Psychological Distress Scale (K-10) to assess psychological distress and the International Physical Activity Questionnaire (IPAQ) to measure PA at each assessment. Total physical activity scores were computed as a weighted average of engagement in walking, moderate, and vigorous exercise (METS). 

Results: There was no significant change in psychological distress scores over time. However, PA significantly decreased over time with total PA significantly lower at T2 and T3 compared to T1. Furthermore, higher levels of PA were associated with reduced psychological distress at each time point, r = -.14 to r = -.18 (p<0.01).

Conclusion: These findings suggest that although psychological distress is not changing across time, individuals engaging in more PA tend to show on average increased resilience against psychological distress during the COVID-19 pandemic.


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