A third of people in Wales relying on digital fitness, risking rise in home injuries

The British Chiropractic Association has launched new research investigating the step change in people’s attitude towards their physical health and wellbeing beyond the immediate effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The survey-based study reveals that more than a third of people in Wales (38%) will continue to use digital fitness solutions, such as virtual personal trainers, home workout videos and health and wellbeing apps, to remain fit and healthy as lockdown restrictions lift and gyms reopen.

The survey, conducted with OnePoll and the BCA, investigated the lifestyle habits and wellbeing routines of 5,000 people across the UK, to understand the lasting impact of lockdown to the population’s physical health – the study looked at areas including exercise, social interaction and workplace initiatives. Across all generations (18-65-year-olds), people are expected to continue to take a more proactive approach to staying fit and healthy, with 37% of people in Wales wanting to improve their overall energy levels post-lockdown. Forty percent want to generally get more movement into their day.

The number of people using their time to exercise has continued to follow an upward trend since the beginning of the first lockdown, in March 2020. Previous research conducted by OnePoll and the BCA in November 2020 revealed that half (50%) of adults set new routines for their wellbeing at the start of the first lockdown. The survey also revealed that since the start of lockdown, 91% of people had stuck to their new routines. A separate study[1] from international healthcare group Bupa UK, suggests people are following new and existing routines to either maintain their mental health (66%) or lose weight (31%).

Recent Google Trends analysis[2] reaffirms this broader, more inclusive step change in behaviour around wellness and connected trends will go far beyond the more immediate effects of the pandemic, with a sustained interest in searches related to ‘wellness’ throughout 2020 and into 2021, growing 21% year-on-year. It also indicates that many people are now moving away from the learning phase to one of action.

However, an increase in the number of people turning to digital fitness solutions to improve their physical health and wellbeing brings with it the risk of a rise in back-related exercise injuries, as a result of working out unsupervised or without proper equipment, adding to the ten million people in England and Scotland alone who already experience persistent back pain[3]. Further research by Bupa UK revealed that 7.2 million eager exercisers have potentially already been hurt or injured during lockdown, with those doing online classes or PT sessions among the most likely to report injury.

Catherine Quinn, President of the British Chiropractic Association, said: “Social distancing and anxiety around returning to shared spaces may keep us out of gyms and fitness classes for a while longer, so it’s encouraging that so many people are planning to either pick up or continue exercise routines at home. But it’s important that new or advanced routines are taken on safely and sensibly to avoid any home injuries.

“Our members have seen an increase in patients with injuries related to working out alone, without guidance or supervision from a personal trainer, since the beginning of the first lockdown. Specifically, more people have been consulting our members about neck and shoulder pain with associated headaches. The good news is that incorporating a few, small habits into your home exercise routines, such as building up your physical activity in manageable bitesize chunks, warming up and cooling down and taking rest days, can stop any unnecessary aches or pains from getting between you and your post-lockdown goals.

“The biggest thing to remember is to listen to your body. Don’t try to do too much too soon or push your body to do more than it’s currently ready for. If you do start to experience any pain, know that this isn’t uncommon when you start something new and normally passes in a few days. Again, body awareness is important here, but most back pain is mechanical in nature, so continued movement or exercise is more likely to manage the problem than ‘benching’ yourself for a few weeks. If you’re experiencing a persistent ache or niggle in the same pace, however, it’s best to seek treatment.”

Other key insights from the study include:

  • 41% of people in Wales will be taking part in freely accessible activities, such as cycling, running or walking, to stay fit and healthy post-lockdown
  • Since the first lockdown (March 2020), 34% of people have had more time to look after their physical health and wellbeing. Forty-three percent of people anticipate spending the same amount of time on routines for their health and wellbeing as lockdown restrictions lift
  • 34% of people want their workplace to either introduce or continue to allow flexi-working to promote more healthy and physically active lifestyles amongst staff. The same amount (34%) of people said they’d benefit from remote working.

Catherine’s top tips to avoid home ‘gymjuries’

  1. My top tip is to start small, with manageable intentions to help positive habits stick. Your goal could be as simple as taking a 15-20 minute guided run each day, or following a quick yoga session each morning. Over time, this will become almost an automatic habit and you can build it up from there – it’s all about manageable bitesize chunks, which will help you take one step at a time coming out of lockdown.
  2. It’s essential that you warm up before you work out. If the exercise programme you’re following doesn’t begin with a guided work out, I recommend doing some dynamic stretches, or stretching whilst moving. Take your body through the movements such as squats, lunges and creating circles with your arms.
  3. It’s always good to get a mix of strengthening, cardiovascular, balance and stretching exercises into your week. Try to get in at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity every day and/or at least 20 minutes of vigorous physical activity every other day. Remember to be mindful of how much you’re pushing your body, however – we all have different strengths and limits, so bring in exercises that work best for you. Without a fitness expert there to guide you, it can be easy to push yourself too hard. Listen to your body and give it time to rest and recover between sessions.
  4. Research your class to make sure you’re doing one appropriate for your level. If you’re pushing your body to do more than it’s ready for, you’re more likely to get injured. In a world of the internet and social media, there’s a wealth of free online resources to provide inspiration for home workouts. The NHS website has a great bank of 10-minute home exercises that will easily fit into your day whilst helping to improve your general health and strengthen and tone different muscle groups. You can also do a quick search for at home workouts or yoga routines on YouTube for some inspiration. The BCA has also created a programme of quick and simple exercises under our programme Straighten Up UK, to promote balance, strength and flexibility in the spine and help you avoid injury both whilst working out and in everyday life. The programme is divided into three simple segments – warm up, posture care and core balance – so it’s really easy to fit into your daily routine – just like brushing your teeth!
  5. Set yourself up for success by investing in supportive shoes and athletic wear. Pricey kit might be a great incentive for your next home work out, and you can find great quality products at a competitive price. It’s important to try a variety of products to see which one suits you.
  6. It’s not uncommon to get aches and pains when you start something new. This normally passes in a few days, but if you’re experiencing a persistent ache or niggle in the same place, it’s best to get it treated. Knowing when to seek treatment takes body awareness; listen to your body and if something doesn’t feel right, contact a healthcare professional for advice.