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Jacobs University Bremen’s research on loneliness and physical activity in times before and during the coronavirus pandemic
February 23, 2021
Since the start of the distance and contact restriction measures associated with the coronavirus pandemic there has been more loneliness among students and young adults. This was the conclusion reached by researchers at Jacobs University Bremen in a new research project. More than 40 percent of participants reported that their feelings of loneliness had increased since the corona restrictions began. The results have now been published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.
Meaningful social interactions and regular physical activity are important factors in a balanced life and one's own well-being. But is less exercise also associated with increased feelings of loneliness? This question was addressed by a team of researchers led by Professor Sonia Lippke, health psychologist at Jacobs University. "We were particularly interested in the relationship between physical activity and loneliness before and during the pandemic," said Tiara Ratz, a research associate in the work group. The doctoral student worked on the study together with Professor Lippke and master student Marie Fischer.
The team used both quantitative and qualitative methods: they conducted surveys of young adults before and during the pandemic as well as interviews. The study focused on international students at European universities and, in addition, young people who were surveyed as part of the representative Weleda Trend Study 2020. This study was also conducted under the scientific direction of Professor Lippke. It aimed to investigate the impact of the first lockdown from March to May 2020 on health and well-being.
The results of the latest study demonstrate the importance of exercise, also for mental well-being: During the pandemic, physical activity remained relevant for young people's feelings of loneliness. For students prone to feelings of loneliness in particular, team sports was found to be an important aspect. "To protect this group from social isolation, it would be valuable to develop strategies for them to engage in sports together despite the required distance," Ratz said. One possibility would be joint virtual evenings where they dance Zumba or practice yoga. However, this is only a temporary solution as the interviewed participants felt that virtual communication cannot replace physical connection.
Studying is an important life event, especially for first-year students. It is often accompanied by major changes. The change of environment and social contacts often leads to loneliness. In this context, the researchers also examined the importance of friendship among first-semester students as a crucial factor in loneliness. "The students themselves often assess their newly acquired friendships at the university as not yet as deep and rather goal-oriented," explained Ratz. She finds that team activities are important for building a better connection with fellow students for this group in particular.