Prospective Analysis of Levels and Correlates of Physical Activity During COVID-19 Pandemic and Imposed Rules of Social Distancing; Gender Specific Study Among Adolescents from Southern Croatia


Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, global authorities have imposed rules of social distancing that directly influence overall physical activity in populations. The aim of this study was to evaluate the trends of changes in physical-activity levels (PALs) in adolescents and factors that may be associated with PALs among the studied boys and girls.

Participants in this prospective study comprised 388 adolescents (126 females; mean age: 16.4 ± 1.9 years) from southern Croatia who were tested at a baseline (before the imposed rules of social distancing) and at a follow-up measurement (three weeks after the initiation). Baseline testing included anthropometric variables, variables of fitness status (done at the beginning of the school year), and PALs. At the follow-up, participants were tested on PALs. PALs were evaluated over an online platform using the Physical Activity Questionnaire for Adolescents.

A significant decrease of PALs was evidenced for the total sample (t-test = 3.46, p < 0.001), which was primarily influenced by a significant decrease of PALs in boys (t-test = 5.15, p < 0.001). The fitness status (jumping capacity, abdominal strength, aerobic endurance, and anaerobic endurance) was systematically positively correlated with PALs at the baseline and follow-up among boys and girls, with the most evident association between aerobic and anaerobic endurance capacities and PALs. Correlations between anthropometric and fitness variables with changes in physical activity (e.g., the difference between baseline and follow-up PALs) were negligible.

Differences in PAL changes between genders were probably related to the fact that PALs among boys were mostly related to participation in organised sports. Correlations between baseline fitness status and PALs indicated the importance of overall physical literacy in preserving PALs in challenging circumstances, such as the COVID-19 pandemic observed here.