Mental fatigue, stay-home orders during Covid-19 led to drop in activity levels among S’poreans

SINGAPORE – The mental fatigue of keeping up with new exercise routines, and advice to older people to stay at home, were reasons that fewer Singaporeans got enough physical activity during the pandemic, after an initial flurry of interest in outdoor exercise like walking, say sports medicine specialists.

The latest National Population Health Survey (NPHS) 2021 found that about 71 per cent of Singaporeans got at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensive physical activity weekly in 2021, compared with about 80 per cent in 2019.

The survey period spanned July 2020 to June 2021, following the circuit breaker, when some Covid-19 safe management measures including limits on group sizes and safe distancing mandates were still in place.

A Sport Singapore spokesman said data from its own National Sports Participation Survey, conducted during the same period as the NPHS, suggested that participation in sports and physical activities did indeed dip during periods of Covid-19 restrictions.

Visitor numbers for its 19 ActiveSG sport centres also fell from 17.7 million visitors in financial year (FY) 2019 to 7.9 million in FY20, recovering slightly to 10.5 million in FY21.

But the NPHS results surprised private venue operators and sports equipment retailers, who saw an uptick in demand for bookings and gear during the pandemic, suggesting that Singaporeans were becoming more active. Parks and nature trails were also crowded.

Owner of sports equipment retailer Smashsports, Mr Mohaiyadeen Marecar, said there was a 25 per cent increase in demand for badminton rackets between the start and the end of 2020. He would sell up to 60 rackets a month during the period of the survey.

He said: “The pandemic made people more inclined to pick up sports, and rackets and related accessories were very popular. Badminton, tennis and squash equipment flew off the shelves. Most people came in asking for racket recommendations, so I knew there were new players who wanted to learn the sport.”

Similarly, Mr Richard Tan, chief executive of Arina Holdings, which runs the Singapore Badminton Hall in the Singapore Expo Convention and Exhibition Centre, said all of the venue’s 22 badminton courts were booked out daily during the pandemic. 

Opening hours were extended from 8am to midnight daily pre-pandemic, to 6am until 3am. 

“The crowd was unprecedented, and never seen before since I started running the courts in 2011. Even regulars would have to book two months in advance to secure a slot,” said Mr Tan.

But physiotherapist Kylie Siu at Thrive Healthcare pointed out that pandemic-era restrictions also imposed limits on facilities such as fewer slots and reduced capacity, with the result that demand may have outstripped supply.

She said the overall volume of physical activity during periods such as the circuit breaker and heightened alerts probably fell significantly, with people advised to stay at home. The NPHS covered total physical activity, which includes exercise for leisure, work and commuting.

“While we may see an hour of active physical activity such as cycling, or home workouts which may span 15 minutes to an hour, most other times of the day may be spent working at home and thus not moving much,” she said.


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