Global health in 2020: less walking but people lost more weight and slept longer

In brief: Looking back at 2020, one would imagine that spending most of the year trapped indoors had a detrimental effect on our health, but a new global study from Withings suggests the damage hasn’t been too bad, with some areas actually showing improvement.

The French digital health and wearables company’s ‘year in review’ for 2020, which is based on anonymous aggregated data from a pool of 5 million users, showed quite a few surprises, the biggest of which relates to how we slept.

It appears that concern over Covid-19, jobs, and the economy didn’t keep everyone awake at night. People on average slept an extra eight minutes and 34 seconds this year, with those in the US managing 7 minutes and 41 seconds extra shuteye.

Withings has put forward a few theories to explain the extra sleep: nightlife all but disappearing in most countries, restaurant visits dropping drastically, less traffic noise, and working from home means no commutes, all of which allow for more and better sleep. And don’t forget the people who go to bed early because there’s little else to do on an evening.

Additionally, less alcohol (for some), nightlife, indulgent restaurant food, and stressful commutes have led to a lowered sleeping heart rate, which is usually a sign of good health. It dropped 0.54 beats per minute this year compared to 2019.

Walking was one activity that suffered throughout the pandemic. With restrictions on outdoor movements and many working from home, daily average steps were down 10 percent (511 fewer steps daily). The closure of pools meant swimming was down 30 percent, and the number of people running fell 1.75 percent. Cycling, however, increased 8 percent.

Possibly the most surprising stat is that people lost more weight (0.3 pounds) and fat mass (0.33 pounds) in 2020 compared to last year, and more of the population met their weight loss goals.

“2020 has certainly been a challenge for everyone around the world. We were pleased to see through our study though that overall people continued to get steps in, focus on their health goals and rest this year,” said Mathieu Letombe, CEO of Withings.

“In fact, when it came to sleep and hitting weight goals, we found that people improved from 2019. Hopefully, as we head into the New Year, we can continue to get the rest we need and stay active during the day.”

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