Social media and smartphone app use predicts maintenance of physical activity during Covid-19

Research Alert


Co-corresponding Authors:  M. Mercedes Perez-Rodriguez, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Agnes Norbury, PhD, Post Doctoral Fellow, both of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai

Bottom Line: During lockdowns (stay-at-home orders issued in response to the Covid-19 pandemic), people may face health risks as a result of decreased physical activity levels and increased social isolation (loneliness). We found that, specifically during lockdown, greater time spent using social media apps was associated with greater next day physical activity. One possible explanation for this finding is that digital social interactions help maintain psychological wellbeing (e.g., improve mood) and therefore motivation to be physically active, under difficult and socially-distanced conditions.

Results:  We found that when people spent more time using social media apps on a particular day, the next day they were significantly more active: both in terms of non-social smartphone app use and physical activity (total daily step count).  In addition, across people, there was a stronger relationship between daily physical activity and social app use during lockdown: during lockdown, people who spent more time on social apps also took more daily steps.

Why the Research Is Interesting:  Some researchers have proposed that social media and smartphone use have negative effects on mood and mental health, particularly in young people. However, the reality is likely to be more nuanced. In particular, it has been suggested that social media might help build community among marginalized groups of people, and enable people to recruit social support during periods of stress or isolation. Our findings favor taking a more nuanced approach when discussing the role of digital technology in wellbeing, such as focusing on particular populations, types of digital technology and social context.

When/What: We looked at daily passively recorded smartphone app use and step count data, as measured both before and after a government-mandated Covid-19 related lockdown in Madrid, Spain, earlier this year (38 days before and 45 days after lockdown, across February to April, 2020).

Who: The data we studied was provided by a group of people who signed up to take part in research involving smartphone-based monitoring of their phone use, physical activity, and mood levels. Importantly, all the people who took part in this study had a diagnosis of a psychiatric disorder (most commonly, of anxiety or a mood-related disorder such as depression). This is significant, as we might expect people with these kind of symptoms to be more vulnerable to negative effects of lockdown and social isolation on mood. Overall, we looked at information from 127 different people, with 6201 total observations (data from different people on different days). The average age of people in the study was 45, and almost ¾ were women.

How: We used a form of analysis designed to handle multiple related pieces of information from the same people, over many days (technically, this was multilevel vector autoregression organized into Gaussian graphical network models). This form of analysis allowed us to look at both: 1) How levels of one factor measured on one day predicted measurements of all other factors on the next day, within the group as a whole (e.g., how does day 1 social media use relate to day 2 physical activity), and 2) Individual differences in measures across the group (e.g., is higher overall social media use associated with higher or lower physical activity).

Study Conclusions: In this observational study, we found evidence to support the existence of a positive path between social media use and daily physical activity, during pandemic-related lockdowns. A possible explanation for this association is that harnessing online social support resources guards against negative effects of in-personal social deprivation and other pandemic-related stressors on mood, which in turn helps maintain motivation to engage in physical activity. In order to confirm this idea, it would be necessary to study the effects of interventions that directly modify social media use (e.g., smartphone prompts to open communication apps) on mood and activity.

Paper Title:  Social media and smartphone app use predicts maintenance of physical activity during Covid-19 enforced isolation in psychiatric outpatients

Said Mount Sinai's Dr. Perez-Rodriguez of the research: “Excitingly, our results suggest that, for people who use apps to help monitor their mental health, it might be possible to identify when users are at risk for negative health consequences. For example, we can identify a decrease in health-promoting behaviors (e.g., physical activity) and a failure to engage in positive mechanisms that may help preserve physical activity such as the one identified here (social media use). This could help provide a route to early intervention, before symptoms worsen, for example via smartphone prompts to encourage the use of communication apps”.

Relevant Social Media handles: 

Twitter:  @agnesnorbury; @PerezLab1; @MountSinaiPsych;



To request a copy of the paper or to schedule an interview with Dr. Perez-Rodriguez, please contact Mount Sinai’s Director of Media and Public Affairs, Elizabeth Dowling, at or at 347-541-0212.



Filters close

Showing results

110 of 4573
Released: 15-Jan-2021 5:40 PM EST
Research Links Social Isolation to COVID-19 Protocol Resistance
Humboldt State University

As health officials continue to implore the public to wear masks and practice social distancing, recent research by Humboldt State University Psychology Professor Amber Gaffney provides key insights into connections between social isolation, conspiratorial thinking, and resistance to COVID-19 protocols.

Newswise: Rapid blood test identifies COVID-19 patients at high risk of severe disease
Released: 15-Jan-2021 5:35 PM EST
Rapid blood test identifies COVID-19 patients at high risk of severe disease
Washington University in St. Louis

Scientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have shown that a relatively simple and rapid blood test can predict which patients with COVID-19 are at highest risk of severe complications or death. The blood test measures levels of mitochondrial DNA, which normally resides inside the energy factories of cells. Mitochondrial DNA spilling out of cells and into the bloodstream is a sign that a particular type of violent cell death is taking place in the body.

Released: 15-Jan-2021 2:55 PM EST
COVID-19 deaths really are different. But best practices for ICU care should still apply, studies suggest.
Michigan Medicine - University of Michigan

COVID-19 deaths are indeed different from other lung failure deaths, according to two recent studies, with 56% of COVID-19 patients dying primarily from the lung damage caused by the virus, compared with 22% of those whose lungs fail due to other causes. But, the researchers conclude, the kind of care needed to help sustain people through the worst cases of all forms of lung failure is highly similar, and just needs to be fine-tuned.

Released: 15-Jan-2021 2:50 PM EST
45% of adults over 65 lack online medical accounts that could help them sign up for COVID-19 vaccinations
Michigan Medicine - University of Michigan

As the vaccination of older adults against COVID-19 begins across the country, new poll data suggests that many of them don’t yet have access to the “patient portal” online systems that could make it much easier for them to schedule a vaccination appointment. In all, 45% of adults aged 65 to 80 had not set up an account with their health provider’s portal system.

Released: 15-Jan-2021 1:30 PM EST
New England Journal of Medicine publishes COVID-19 treatment trial results
University of Texas at San Antonio

A clinical trial involving COVID-19 patients hospitalized at UT Health San Antonio and University Health, among roughly 100 sites globally, found that a combination of the drugs baricitinib and remdesivir reduced time to recovery, according to results published Dec. 11 in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Released: 15-Jan-2021 12:40 PM EST
DNA test can quickly identify pneumonia in patients with severe COVID-19, aiding faster treatment
University of Cambridge

Researchers have developed a DNA test to quickly identify secondary infections in COVID-19 patients, who have double the risk of developing pneumonia while on ventilation than non-COVID-19 patients.

Released: 15-Jan-2021 12:30 PM EST
Fight CRC To Present Research Findings on The Impact of COVID-19 on the Colorectal Cancer Community at 2021 GI ASCO
Fight Colorectal Cancer

Fight Colorectal Cancer presents abstract at Gastrointestinal Cancer Symposium highlighting the need to address the barriers and opportunities for care within the colorectal cancer community during the COVID-19 pandemic

Released: 15-Jan-2021 12:25 PM EST
Technion to Award Honorary Doctorate to Pfizer CEO Dr. Albert Bourla
American Technion Society

Israel's Technion will award an honorary doctorate to Pfizer CEO and Chairman Dr. Albert Bourla, for leading the development of the novel vaccine against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The honorary doctorate will be conferred at the Technion Board of Governors meeting in November 2021.

Released: 15-Jan-2021 11:30 AM EST
UW researchers develop tool to equitably distribute limited vaccines
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health and UW Health have developed a tool that incorporates a person’s age and socioeconomic status to prioritize vaccine distribution among people who otherwise share similar risks due to their jobs.

Showing results

110 of 4573