A qualitative study of adults who switched to active commuting during the COVID-19 lockdowns

Mitchell, Adam and Mitchell, Fiona and Harrington, Deirdre (2022) A qualitative study of adults who switched to active commuting during the COVID-19 lockdowns. Journal of Sport Sciences, 40 (S1). pp. 1-39. ISSN 1466-447X (https://doi.org/10.1080/02640414.2022.2125766)

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During the COVID-19 lockdowns many UK adults switched away from their car or public transport commute to an active form of commuting, including cycling and walking (Whyte, et al., 2022, Active Travel Studies, 2). The aim of this study was to explore the views of adults who became new active commuters during one of the 2020 COVID-19 lockdowns and to identify ways active com-muting could form part of the pandemic recovery. Ethics approval was granted by the University of Strathclyde School of Psychological Sciences ethics committee. Participants were recruited via social media and word of mouth. Participants were eligible if they were over 18 years old and self-identified as switch-ing to active commuting during lockdown. Once consent was obtained online, participants (n = 9) reported their demographics and completed a 30-min Zoom interview following a semi- structured interview guide. Interviews were transcribed verbatim and thematic analysis of the interview transcripts produced key themes and sub-themes. From the analysis, four main themes were extracted to keep focus on the project’s overarching aim and objectives. These themes were benefits of active commuting, the barriers to active commuting, effects on mental health and well-being and maintenance of behaviour change post-COVID-19 lockdowns. Example sub-theme for each main theme included reduced stress and increased confidence, poor road conditions, economic and environmental benefits and flexibility. The quotes below represent the main themes:“[the benefits of commuting to work by bicycle were] phy-sical, emotional health, um the other one is it makes me feel I’m doing something for the environment.” Andrew (35–44)“There is one [road] section near me which does have a cycle lane, but the cycle lane is an absolute disgrace.” Claire (55–64)“I feel calmer, I get time on my own.” Anna (55–64).“I occasionally drive if I had a late shift finishing really late then an early shift starting the next day . . . There’s not enough time to rest and recover from that.” Roger (45–54).Local and national governments are facing the grand global challenges of declining mental and physical health and climate change in the COVID-19 recovery. Switching to active commuting can be a strategy to help tackle these crises. This study provides much-needed qualitative data to understand how active commut-ing was used during lockdowns, which can be used in the early stages of intervention development. While barriers do exist, switching to an active commute should be prioritised as part of the COVID-19 recovery.