For some Americans, there is no need for a New Year's resolution in the coming weeks.
Despite gyms, fitness studios, arenas, stadiums and just about everything else shutting down for a lot of 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic, fitness was a top priority for millions of Americans, data from fitness tracking app Strava shows.
Strava -- an internet service for tracking human exercise -- reviewed data from more than 73 million users in 2020 for their year-end-report and found that despite working from home, social distancing and shelter-in-place restrictions, the virtual community became stronger than ever.
In April alone, more than 30,000 clubs were created and nearly 250,000 athletes joined clubs on Strava. More than 1 million people joined Strava's monthly 5K challenge in May -- the most ever in a single challenge on the app. But all of that pales in comparison to the 2 million new users who joined the free app every month this year.
In addition to jumps in running and cycling activity in the U.S., Strava also saw booms in walking, hiking, indoor cross-training activities such as yoga and weight lifting, and water sports like kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding.
"There was just so much uncertainty surrounding COVID [...] it was great to see people deal with that by finding some sort of certainty and an everyday routine," Megan Roche, an ultra-runner and epidemiologist, told ESPN.
Women drove the increase in fitness -- both in the U.S. and all over the world. Between April and September, women aged 18-29 saw a 45.2% increase in the median number of activities uploaded compared to a 27.3% increase by their male counterparts, the Strava data shows. Women were also biking more, logging a 72% increase in bike trips compared to 2019.
Users also hit the pavement. Despite marathons being canceled all over the world, hundreds of thousands of 26.2-mile runs were uploaded to Strava. And it didn't matter that people couldn't run them together: 44% of those were run alone, compared to just 14% last year.
The virtual community on fitness apps like Strava clearly helped people connect in a time where physically being together was impossible.
"Exercise helps us feel in more control, connected and competent during periods of uncertainty anxiety such as the world faced this year with the pandemic. Exercise reduces worry and rumination through subgenual prefrontal cortex activation and gets our endocannabinoid system firing," Simon Marshall, a performance psychologist and professor of behavioral medicine, told ESPN.
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