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Lockdown-induced lethargy a concern: Survey 

Recently an online cross-sectional survey was conducted from 27 May to 2 June 2021 by Prof. Ranil Jayawardena, Piumika Sooriarachchi, and Tormalli Francis on diabetes and metabolic syndrome. This study aimed to investigate the immediate impact of Covid-19 quarantine measures on physical inactivity and weight gain among Sri Lankans. 

The results of the survey were surprising yet not unexpected taking into account that many citizens were forced to keep to their homes during the lockdown. The survey pointed out that increased physical inactivity was reported during the Covid-19 lockdown period in Sri Lanka. It also showed a significant reduction in exercises, as well as an increase in sitting and screen time. Another concerning factor was that more than one-third of the sample gained weight during Covid-19. 

Prof. Jayawardena explained that the survey was conducted using Google Forms. “The questionnaire, including socio-demographics and physical activity-related questions, was distributed as a Google Form through social media platforms (such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and also WhatsApp). There were 3,707 people in all 25 districts who responded.”

Physical inactivity contributes to positive energy balance, and subsequent fat deposition and weight gains. Prof. Jayawardena explained that during the confinement period, the time spent on exercise or other physical activities has been restricted due to several reasons. Listing a few, he said: “Closed gyms and sports centres, walking distance being limited, lack of space and infrastructure in houses for physical exercise, and lack of technical knowledge of the population on appropriate training routines are some of the reasons.” 

Sri Lanka reached its peak of Covid-19 in May 2021 and the Government has taken strict measures to mitigate the pandemic. During the third wave of the pandemic, from 21 May 2021, the country went into a stringent lockdown for weeks with a strict ban on inter-district travel and prohibition of social gatherings. Unlike other countries, citizens could drive to the shop or go for a walk in the park, whereas the Sri Lankan authorities completely restricted people’s movements.

With regards to physical activity changes, more than half of the respondents (52.4%) declared that their daily exercise routine has reduced during the Covid-19 pandemic. Specifically, 63.5% of the participants reported that their sitting time has increased during the same period. In addition, more than 80% of the respondents reported an increase of screen time spent on televisions, cell phones, and laptops. Furthermore, nearly half of the respondents (49.4%) reported an increase in sleep duration while there was no change in the quality of sleep for the majority (43.5%).

Regular physical activity is a key public health behaviour as it has a remarkable impact on both mental and physical well-being. Prof. Jayawardena added that even before the pandemic, over 50% of Sri Lankan adults were either inactive or had low levels of physical activity. “Moreover, because of the unique body composition with a higher body fat percentage at a lower body mass index (BMI), Sri Lanka has a high prevalence of obesity and obesity-related non-communicable diseases (NCDs).” As a result, diseases such as insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM), and coronary heart disease are escalating among Sri Lankan adults. Therefore, the current Covid-19 pandemic may further worsen this situation.

We spoke to Tormilli Francis on ways citizens of Sri Lanka can regain their physical fitness. She commented: “Findings of the study show us the necessity for the development and implementation of programmes that may aid in the prevention of weight gain, promoting physical activity, and reducing sedentary behaviours during the Covid-19 pandemic.” One factor that could help in controlling unnecessary weight gain would be maintaining portion sizes of one’s food intake, Francis explained. 

Reduced physical activity could contribute to weight gain during the pandemic period. Therefore, understanding the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on physical activity patterns among Sri Lankan adults is important to implement future preventive strategies to overcome the burden of the NCDs, where health systems are already overburdened as a result of the pandemic, they concluded.