Exercise Habits of College Students Before and During the COVID-19 Pandemic


Omar Ramirez

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Health and Human Performance

Date of Award

Summer 2022


Physical activity and exercise are known to help combat chronic diseases that can affect mental and physical health by boosting the human’s immune system (Jiménez-Pavón et al., 2020). However, the COVID-19 pandemic forced individuals to quarantine, isolate, social distance, and change their lifestyle, causing a decrease in physical activity by 32% in individuals who had regularly performed exercise before the pandemic (Meyer et al., 2020). College students are a unique population of study, because universities converted to virtual format (Armstrong-Mensah et al., 2020). PURPOSE: To determine the impact COVID-19 has had on college students’ experiences and attitudes towards exercise. It was hypothesized that college students would decrease their physical activity during the Fall 2020 and Spring 2021 semesters, compared to before March 2020. METHODS: An invitation email with a link to a Qualtrics survey was sent to all students who were enrolled in the Fall 2020 and Spring 2021 semesters, excluding student-athletes. The survey included questions regarding the amount of exercise performed before and during the early phases of the COVID-19 pandemic, how comfortable the students felt exercising in indoor/outdoor spaces, and how many college students met the ACSM aerobic and resistance training recommendations. RESULTS: 571 students (411 female/150 male, 10 other gender, 29±11 yrs) completed the survey during the Spring semester of 2021. 66% students reported a decrease of exercise during the Fall 2020 semester compared to before March 2020, 27% reported an increase, and 7% reported no change of exercise. For the beginning of the Spring semester, 50% recorded a decrease of exercise, 37% recorded an increase and 13% recorded no change. Many students felt apprehensive to exercise in indoor public spaces and the campus recreation center (4.2±3.3 and 4.1±3.4, respectively) and more comfortable in outdoor public spaces (7.2±2.7). Only 53% met the aerobic training recommendation and only 46% met the resistance training recommendations. CONCLUSION: The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the exercise habits of the majority of surveyed college students, some for the better, but more for the worse, especially during the Fall 2021 semester. It has caused a sense of anxiety in using indoor recreational facilities.


Vipa Bernhardt

Subject Categories

Medicine and Health Sciences | Sports Sciences