THE INTERNET, PHYSICAL EXERCISE AND DEPRESSION: WHAT IS THE RELATIONSHIP DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC?
Authors: Beatriz Helena Ramos Reis*, Bruno Veiga Fontes de Carvalho*, Prof Jonas Lírio Gurgel**, Prof Flávia Porto*
*Institute of Physical Education and Sports, State University of Rio de Janeiro (UERJ)
The COVID-19 pandemic has generated the need to employ social distancing measures to reduce the spread of the new coronavirus. However, negative effects on the physical and mental health of individuals have been noted, as the sudden change in routine has resulted in a new lifestyle for people, who are now spending their lives in confinement. Increased worries, anxiety, prolonged sadness and inactivity are some of the consequences caused or aggravated by isolation.
Physical exercise continues to be recognised as an effective non-medication strategy that is useful for mitigating these effects, as it helps in the prevention and treatment of physical, metabolic and/or psychological diseases. However, measures taken to suspend and limit the use of establishments, such as gyms and sports clubs, to avoid people gathering together, have led to many people undertaking regular physical activities within the home.
In this context, an interesting phenomenon has been seen on the internet, which is an increase in the search for information online. Google Trends, for example, is a resource reporting the most searched terms in different locations of the world and reveals the popularity of these terms on a scale of 0 to 100. It was possible from this to identify an increased search for information related to the consequences of the pandemic and the needs it has generated. It can be seen that in Brazil, prior to March 2020, searches for the term in Portuguese “exercício físico em casa” had low popularity (fluctuating between 0% and 25% on the scale of Google searches). The following month, after the beginning of social distancing within the country, the search for this term has varied between approximately 40% and 100% until the present day. When analysing the same term in English, it was seen that interest in this search varied between 0% and 25% in January 2020, whereas, from February until May of this year, searches rose to between 25% and 100%, before decreasing in June after several countries had relaxed their isolation rules. Analysis of this data evidenced a considerable increase in the popularity of the term during this period, demonstrating a greater interest in the subject by Internet users. These variations seem to be linked to the closing and opening of trade and other activities around the world.
It is also interesting to mention the need to adapt to performing exercise at home. Consequently, it was noticed that interest in the sports equipment needed to practice physical exercise at home also increased, being demonstrated by searches on Google. The search for the term in Portuguese "equipamentos para atividade física" in the first two months of 2020 was close to zero in interest levels; by March interest had increased a lot, reaching 100 in April. From a global perspective, the term “equipment for physical activity”, researched in the English language showed a peak of interest (100 on the scale) in February and less interest by the beginning of June (0 on the scale). As the pandemic is not yet under control, and indeed with the prediction of new waves of contagions and deaths, it is very likely that people's habits will really change as a way of adapting to the new reality.
While recognising that people are in general resilient, it cannot be denied that psychological damage is evident, and it is often even difficult to understand and deal with the magnitude of the feelings that may arise. With this in mind, we repeated the research process on Google Trends with the term in Portuguese “depressão na quarentena”, and found little interest from the Brazilian population between January and early March (0 on the scale), probably due to the fact that social confinement did not exist in Brazil at that time. However, from March onwards, the search for the term grew a lot, reaching a peak in searches (100 on the scale) by the beginning of May. Similarly, when researching the term “quarantine depression” in English, there was little interest in the world population between the months of January until early March, with a subsequent exponential increase in searches for the term, reaching a peak in April, followed by a decrease until the month of June.
From Space to COVID-19: what can we learn? Astronauts need to know how to deal with confinement and, despite being submitted to various forms of training to adequately meet the challenges of space missions, psychological effects caused by confinement have already been reported in the literature. In the case of COVID-19, there was no preparation for this new reality, leaving us all trying to develop mechanisms to become more resilient to and cope better with the pandemic and all the events related to it. The Internet has become an ally, a service that provides information and shopping possibilities for people. The challenge now is to deal well with this volume of information, dividing it up in terms of what is true and what is applicable.