06 May 2020

Harlequins' Zoe Saynor on new coronavirus research study and how women's rugby will be affected by pandemic

A new study is being carried out to research the impact coronavirus is having on people's physical activity and wellbeing.

The UK is now six weeks into lockdown measures and during that time most people have only been allowed out once a day for exercise.

The study is being conducted by the University of Winchester, with contributors from many other universities such as Portsmouth and Exeter, and is looking into how people's physical activity has changed in isolation and what affect this has on them.

University of Portsmouth lecturer and researcher Dr Zoe Saynor has inside knowledge about reduced physical activity, as when she isn’t teaching and researching, she is running out on the rugby pitch for Harlequins.

She plays in the Premier 15s, the women’s top tier, but the league's current season has been ruled null and void due to the pandemic.

The second row spoke to NewsChain about the study, how it will be used to help prepare future generations if they encounter similar pandemics and why she is still excited about the women's game.

“The title is ‘The Effect of Coronavirus Restrictions on the Physical Activity and Wellbeing in the UK’,” Saynor said.

"We're looking at people within the UK but it has gone to different countries as well, such as New Zealand, and they have adopted the study in the last few weeks. 

"We are interested in these restricitions, of course on how they affect people's wellbeing, but also in terms of physical activity and how people's behaviour changes.

"Do some people become more physically active or do they become more sedentary? 

"There's obviously a number of reasons why we want to do this. At the outset it's to see the impact of this first phase.

"Last week we had 3,000 people respond to the survey and the reason we want so many people in this first phase is it will allow us to understand, on a more broad level, the population affect of this pandemic or similar pandemics on our health behaviours.

"In addition, it will help us prepare in future if we are to face something like this again and it will also help to inform us as we progress through this. 

"We are asking the people who take part in the initial survey, if they are happy, to assess them at different time points as we progress through these restrictions.

“As they change slightly, we are going to track people at four time points over the next year and a half.”

Saynor and her team will not only be looking at the physical impacts on the population, but also the mental.

"We're focusing on physical activity and people's wellbeing. So the questions are relatively broad but we are trying to get an insight into how active people are and how different that is to what we were doing beforehand as well as an overall look at people's wellbeing.

“There will be physical and mental health affects over this period, and moving forward, so our initial goal is to look into what is happening at the moment.”

The 32 year-old says she is ‘lucky and grateful’ to still be working while her other job as a rugby player has been put on the back burner.

Women's sport is said to be the worst affected by the pandemic but Saynor, who has played from Quins since 2017, is still feeling positive about the growth of women's rugby.

"I'm still excited as I was before. I've gone through this transition, I've played as the attendances have increased and I was part of the first Quins team in the Premiership and it's been an exciting time.

"I think everyone is raring to go to, to get back to training and I know as much as everyone with the work I do that people's safety is paramount and we should follow guidelines.

“But I'm excited as I was before about rugby. It's a great time for the women's game and it's been an exciting journey over the last couple of years.”

She is currently in rehab for a knee injury she picked up against Bristol Bears six months ago and she is chomping at the bit to return to the pitch if the women's top tier gets the green light in September.

"It's been really nice to focus on my rehab and I've had more time to focus on it, I'm seeing the positives of what's going on at the moment.

"Yeah I think [I'll be ready to in September], all we can do during this time is put yourself in the best position.

“I know myself and the girls have been working really hard, we were given exercise programmes and training has been tough at home! 

"We can't say it's been the same as rugby training but I think the girls and I will be able to hit the ground running as soon as it is safe to do so."

If you would like to take part in Saynor's coronavirus study, click here.

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