Public health professionals have raised concerns that the social and physical distancing measures implemented in response to the Covid-19 pandemic may negatively impact health in other areas, via both decreased physical activity and increased social isolation. Here, we investigated whether increased engagement with digital social tools may help mitigate effects of enforced isolation on physical activity and mood, in a naturalistic study of at-risk individuals. Passively sensed smartphone app use and actigraphy data, collected from a sample of psychiatric outpatients both before and during imposition of strict lockdown conditions (N=163), were analysed using Gaussian graphical models: a form of network analysis which gives insight into the predictive relationships between measures across timepoints. Within-individuals, we found evidence of a positive predictive path between digital social engagement, general smartphone use, and physical activity – selectively under lockdown conditions. Further, we observed a positive relationship between social media use and total daily steps across individuals during (but not prior to) lockdown. We interpret these findings in terms of individuals using these digital tools to harness online social support structures, which may help guard against negative effects of in-person social deprivation and other pandemic-related stress. Monitoring of these measures is low burden and unintrusive and therefore, given appropriate consent, could potentially help identify individuals who are failing to engage this mechanism, providing a route to early intervention in this and other vulnerable populations.
Collection : COVID-19 SARS-CoV-2 preprints from medRxiv and bioRxiv