Alcohol intake up, fruit and veg down: How our lifestyles became less healthy in first lockdown

An uptick in our baking possibly contributed to less healthy habits (Getty)
An uptick in our baking possibly contributed to less healthy habits. (Getty)

Despite our best intentions to finally complete the Couch to 5k app during the first lockdown, a study has found that we actually led a ‘less healthy’ lifestyle instead (we blame the banana bread and sourdough).

According to research from the University of East Anglia (UEA), people drank more alcohol, ate less fruit and vegetables, and exercised less during the first lockdown.

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The study, which saw 1,000 participants record their daily lifestyle activities for three months from April last year, found that women, young people and those who are overweight were more likely to adopt these behaviours.

“We are experiencing stress like no other time before and it’s only natural that temptation to reach for comfort food, alcohol and sweet treats is at an all-time high,” nutritionist Karen Chambers tells Yahoo UK.

“Add to this increased use of devices which expose the eyes to blue light that can impact on the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone and disturb a good night’s rest - we have a perfect storm to impact on our health.”

Data from the study also showed that, while women consumed more alcohol than men, men were drinking in greater quantities per occasion.

There's been an increase in strength training, the study found. (Getty)
There's been an increase in strength training, the study found. (Getty)

People ate, on average, one portion less of fruit and vegetables per day during the lockdown and there was a 20% reduction in days when participants were doing 30 minutes or more moderate to vigorous physical activity.

However, some people increased their strength training over the same time period – with a 15% increase in strength training per week.

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Dr Felix Naughton, of the UEA School of Health Sciences, explains: “We found that those groups most at risk of COVID-19 were undertaking the least activity.

“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.

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

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Professor Caitlin Notley, from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, says: “Our findings indicate that, on average, people’s health behaviours worsened in the early stages of the UK’s COVID-19 pandemic measures.

“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.”

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So what does this mean for this new lockdown, which is set to last until mid-February (at least)?

Chambers suspects many will return to old habits this lockdown, as she says for some, these “numbing” behaviours likely never stopped.

“We have to be proactive in whatever ways are available to us about our health,” Chambers adds.

Walking and getting outside, Chambers says, is the best way to ensure you stay healthy over this lockdown.

“We need exposure to sunlight during the day to aid the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone later that evening,” she continues.

“Aim to get to sleep before 11pm. An early night on a regular basis with lots of sleep has a positive impact on hormones. Maintain your optimum vitamin D levels, too. This is beneficial to our immune system and for regulating mood during the winter months.”

Chambers also recommends eating more seasonal foods and taking a break from screens when you can as well.

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