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Smart phone app shows people's movement patterns before and after the corona outbreak

Recommendations on practicing social distance and working from home have caused many of our habits to change since the outbreak of the coronavirus. To get a better answer on how our movement patterns and exercise habits have been affected, researchers at the University of Gothenburg have developed a smart phone app that measures and visualizes our movements before and after the start of the pandemic.

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Alexandra Weilenmann
Alexandra Weilenmann
Photo: Peter Larsson

The function of the newly developed app is simple. The user enters the date when the restrictions went into effect and allows steps data to be transferred from the phone to the new app.

– There are a number of health and activity apps, that is, apps that measure and analyze movement data. But, as far as we know there is no app that in an equally visual way provides an exact answer to how one's movements have been affected since the corona outbreak last spring, says Alexandra Weilenmann, professor in interaction design.

Has the pandemic made us more sedentary?

At the beginning of the pandemic she heard from colleagues and acquaintances that the recommendations issued by the Public Health Agency of Sweden had affected people. Simply put, people felt that they had become more sedentary. This sparked her curiosity and she decided, together with colleagues, to investigate if this was accurate by developing a smart phone application.

– It may be that before the corona outbreak I moved mostly in the morning and afternoon when travelling to and from work. But if I work at home now, I mostly move at lunch during a walk or in the evening during running. Working from home and social distancing do not have to mean that we move less even though there are many indications on this. We simply want to investigate the issue more in depth and see how it actually is

Life has changed

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app interface
Work from home-app interface

The name of the application, Work from home, suggests that it is aimed at people who work from home. But the application is not only developed for office workers who, with the help of a laptop and digital meeting tools, have the opportunity to work from home. Researchers are equally interested in movement patterns and everyday exercise for other groups in society.

– People who work in healthcare, for example nurses, may have had to move more at work now compared to before the pandemic struck due to more and longer work hours. Others may have lost their jobs due to the virus and thus moved less than before. For most people, life has changed in some way after the coronavirus outbreak and we are interested in understanding these changes, says Alexandra Weilenmann.

How do you estimate your own behavior?

There are several other apps developed in relation to covid-19, but they measure travel movement at an aggregate population level. The idea with the ​​Work from home app is to measure the individual's movement pattern.

The app also gives the user an opportunity to compare themselves with others and see how much one's movement patterns have been affected compared to other people who use the app. The individual's self-report around their movements was also an important starting point in the development work, according to research engineer Sebastian Andreasson.

– When starting the app users are asked whether they think they have moved more or less since the corona outbreak. From a research perspective, it is interesting how one estimates one's behavior and an indication of the difference between perceived and actual movement.

– In this way, the app can also provide answers to the question of reliability in reported data and hopefully makes an important contribution to that type of research methodology, he says.

Fact

The data collected via the app will only be used for research purposes. The results will be presented in various research contexts such as scientific publications and conferences.

The app was launched in October and works on both Iphone and Android phones. It is available for free download in Apple app store and Google play.