How have COVID-Restrictions Affected our Exercise Habits? Carrying out Location Intelligence Along a Melbourne Beach Trail Revealed some Interesting Insights.

1 min read

Anecdotally, our exercise habits have changed from Pre-COVID times, but does our location intelligence confirm this?

COVID restrictions have obviously dramatically changed the way we work, interact, exercise, socialise and generally live, at least in the short-term.

Many of us living in Melbourne have worked and schooled from home for the best part of 2 years now. Most have replaced the gym, tennis or football with walking, running or online yoga. We walk and talk rather than go for coffee with friends, sit around an outdoor fire rather than bar-hop, have replaced our lippy and heels with leggings and Uggs and host Zoom events in place of a dinner party. Day-to-day life consists of doing many of the same activities as we did Pre-Covid, but in a completely different way. As a result, we see once-thriving locales now void of life, these people instead now utilising areas within their restricted zone (5 or 10 km distance around home), when and how they can. 

Living in Bayside Melbourne, for years I have walked along the Beach Rd walking/bike path early morning before work. A section of this path from Brighton to Beaumaris, is illustrated in Figure 1 below . Since COVID restrictions began in March 2020, I have started walking at varying times throughout the day in between meetings. Over this period, I have noticed an increase in people exercising along the path. Some days, there are bottlenecks with cyclists, walkers, joggers, skateboarders, roller-bladers, scooters and dogs on leads, all trying to manoeuvre around each other. Does it seem more hectic because it’s actually busier than prior to COVID? Or is it because I’m now walking along the path during different times to when I previously did, and they have always been as busy?  Given we're in the business of analysing human movement, we decided to run the data and find out.

Map showing the walk/bike path we analysed along the beach in Melbourne from Brighton to Beaumaris.
Figure 1: Heatmap of people movement on Beach Road path in Bayside Melbourne

Location intelligence reveals hour-by-hour Beach Rd path usage, Pre- and during- Melbourne COVID restrictions.

We decided to examine the different times of the day people used the path Pre-COVID compared with during COVID restriction periods (Figure 2).  To standardise the data across the two different study periods, the path activity data was plotted by hour of day as a percentage of the peak activity for the day.  This was then averaged across the full week Monday to Sunday.  This allows us to understand how activity along the path was different (or similar) between the study periods.

The results of our analyses were fascinating.

A graph showing travel activity along the beach path by hour of day, comparing Pre-COVID to during COVID restrictions.
Figure 2: Profile of travel activity along Beach Rd path by hour of day (Mon - Sun)

Pre-COVID – The green line in Figure 2 reveals that the trail was much more heavily used early morning than the rest of the day. Traffic starts to build from 6am until it peaked at around 7:45am and then drops off to around 40% of this peak usage at 10 am. Activity then slowly picks back up between 4 pm and 6 pm, and then rapidly drops off after 6 pm. This makes sense logically, as many people exercise early before work – hence the mass of activity early morning, and then picking up again later in the day after the average work day has finished.  The morning activity peak is likely to also include cyclists commuting to the city, which would be more concentrated in the morning, and less so for the ride home in the evening.

During Melbourne COVID restrictions – As we can see by following the brown line in Figure 2, activity is far more evenly distributed through the day. It follows a similar pattern to Pre-COVID early morning, but doesn’t reach it’s morning peak until around 9:30am. High activity levels are maintained to at least 75% of peak activity throughout the day. Usage then doesn’t reach its daily peak until just after 5pm, when it then drops off dramatically. This also makes logical sense - with so many people working from home, our days are less structured, and therefore exercise doesn’t necessarily take place before or after work.  There is also less cyclists commuting to work.  The lines are blurred between work and home life, and people are able to exercise when they have free time.

  1.   Melbourne COVID restrictions mean that gyms, yoga studios, swimming pools and other indoor sports and recreation facilities are all closed, and people are resorting to other forms of exercise – in Bayside, walking/running/riding the beach trail is popular.
  2.   Melbourne COVID restrictions mean many people are working from home, and the more relaxed structure of their day allows people to exercise when they’d like to, which can be during the day and not just before/after work.

We use Location Intelligence to Compare Beach Rd path usage each day of the week, Pre- and During Melbourne COVID restrictions.

To understand more about Pre- and During- COVID activity on this section of the path, we thought it would be helpful to examine total usage on each day of the week. Figure 3 below shows our findings.  The green bars show Pre-COVID and the brown indicates During-COVID usage.

A graph showing travel activity along the beach path by day of week, comparing Pre-COVID to during COVID restrictions.
Figure 3: Travel activity along Beach Rd path by day of week (Mon - Sun)

Interestingly, activity looks very similar on most days both Pre- and during COVID. The big callouts here are that during COVID, the path was noticeably busier on Tuesdays and Sundays than Pre-COVID. The other days showed slightly more overall usage every day pre-COVID (except Fridays where activity was almost identical Pre and during COVID). Strangely, Saturday’s activity was much busier Pre-COVID, yet Sunday’s were busier than Saturdays during COVID.

It's also worth noting that during COVID restrictions, Monday-Friday all have very similar levels of usage, and Saturdays and Sundays are almost identical to each other. We assume this is because during lockdowns, we all do the same things each day - there is little to differentiate the days of the week. Weekdays, we work, exercise and maintain the home. During lockdown, weekends are pretty much the same, except without the work, so we exercise more as we can see from the chart.  

In Conclusion…

In conclusion, this specific section of our Bayside beach path is clearly getting more of a workout than it would be if it were not for Melbourne COVID restrictions. Pre-COVID, I (and it would appear many others) would normally only use this path early morning and on weekends - due to work commitments and doing other more formal exercise. So our analyses, reflects my personal habits and anecdotal evidence. It’s anyone’s guess which of these changes to our exercise habits will stick long-term, and will create some fascinating content for discussion in a few years from now. Until then, I’ll enjoy the fact that a stretch this wonderful beach path is within my 5km bubble.

If there's a location you would like analysed or compared, get in touch today @ www.propella.ai/contact