UTEP survey reveals increase in health benefits amid COVID-19 shutdown

%22Moonrise+Morning+Over+El+Paso%2C+Texas%22+by+formulanone+is+licensed+with+CC+BY-SA+2.0.

Stock Image of El Paso Landscape by formulanone on Creative Commons

“Moonrise Morning Over El Paso, Texas” by formulanone is licensed with CC BY-SA 2.0.

Isaiah Ramirez, Staff Reporter

Maintaining physical wellness amid the COVID-19 pandemic may present itself as a difficult task to maintain, but a recent study conducted by UTEP researchers revealed El Paso’s stay-at-home ordinance has had a positive impact on some of its residents.

According to the data, 37% of participants said they improved their exercise practices by trying and adapting to new fitness activities, while 15% said they increased their outdoor recreation activities.

“When we had our lab shut down and we noticed that there were these changes to people’s diets and health and access to food, we were curious to how it impacted the West Texas region,” UTEP assistant professor of kinesiology and the study’s principal investigator, Cory M. Smith, Ph.D., said.

Within the study, a survey was conducted during September 2020 to El Paso and Las Cruces residents, with questions regarding the initial stay-at-home ordinance that went into effect on March 24, 2020.

The survey’s 75 questions focused on a person’s personal changes in physical activity, nutritional habits, and changes in thoughts and attitudes toward common hygiene practices and emergency preparedness in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Most were closed ended questions with yes or no responses, with some including open-ended answers. In the end, the team received about 1,300 responses.

The survey also revealed that after the stay-at-home order went into effect, the number of individuals who had a high level of concern for contracting COVID-19 increased to 57% and the implementation of the ordinance increased handwashing and sanitizing frequency in 92% of individuals.

“A lot of the surprising things we found were how people were able to adapt to their exercise habits and nutrition as well,” Smith’s primary research assistant, Owen Salmon, said.

The research’s hypothesis suggested people were going to exercise less during the pandemic due to closed gym facilities within the region. Smith said the survey showed individuals who exercised regularly prior to the shut down were exercising less, and individuals who did not exercise before quarantine began to exercise and making it a priority.

Smith said the team has discussed future research topics once society is back to the “new normal.” With students returning to campus, the team is looking to create a short survey focusing on safety and viewpoints of the COVID-19 vaccine.

“The current data out there shows mostly everyone is willing to take the vaccine now, but when we asked as part of the survey, which was not the case,” Smith said. “It was about 60% or so who were open to the vaccine, others were unsure, and some were against it because they were concerned that there wouldn’t be the proper regulatory channels to make it safe.”

According to the City of El Paso, as of April 5, 412,370 COVID-19 vaccine does have been allocated to providers in El Paso, out of which 418,812 have been administered.

The questions the team is looking to focus on in the follow-up survey, is how individuals are maintaining their exercise activities now that gyms have reopened, as well as their new perception on the vaccine, and if the community expects another shutdown.

“Obviously COVID-19 is a terrible thing and it’s not saying that it made everything great, we were trying to find takeaways where it impacted people’s well-being and longevity and we applaud the community for binding together to stay safe and stay healthy,” Smith said. “Really what this shows is a greater awareness of health, nutrition and exercise within this region.”

Isaiah Ramirez may be reached at [email protected]; @IsaiahRamirez1 on Twitter.