Effects of a remote, YouTube-delivered exercise intervention on young adults’ physical activity, sedentary behavior, and sleep during the COVID-19 pandemic: Randomized controlled trial

Daniel J McDonough, Melina A. Helgeson, Wenxi Liu, Zan Gao

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND: Public health guidelines have called for innovative and flexible physical activity (PA) intervention strategies to promote PA and health amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. Therefore, this study's purpose was to examine the effects of a home-based, YouTube-delivered PA intervention grounded in self-determination theory on young adults' free-living PA, sedentary behavior, and sleep quality (NCT04499547).

METHODS: Sixty-four young adults (48 females; age: 22.8 ± 3.4 years, mean ± SD; body mass index = 23.1 ± 2.6 kg/m 2) were randomized (1:1) into the intervention group, which received weekly aerobic and muscle-strengthening PA videos, or control group, which received weekly general health education videos, for 12 weeks. Our primary outcome was free-living moderate-to-vigorous PA (MVPA) and our secondary outcomes were sedentary behavior, light PA, and sleep quality (measured using ActiGraph accelerometers) along with muscle-strengthening PA frequency, self-determination theory-related motivation (non-regulation, external regulation, introjected regulation, identified regulation, integrated regulation, and intrinsic regulation), and perceived PA barriers (assessed using validated questionnaires). Repeated measures analysis of variances (ANOVAs) examined between-group differences at an adjusted significance level of 0.004 and effect sizes as partial eta-squared (η p 2).

RESULTS: We observed statistically significant interaction effects for MVPA, sleep efficiency, muscle-strengthening PA frequency, non-regulation, integrated regulation, intrinsic regulation, and perceived PA barriers (F(1, 62) = 10.75-77.67, p < 0.001-0.002, η p 2 = 0.15-0.56) with all outcomes favoring the intervention group. We observed no statistically significant differences in either group for sedentary behavior, light PA, sleep duration, or external, introjected, and identified regulations after 12 weeks (F(1, 62) = 1.11-3.64, p = 0.06-0.61).

CONCLUSION: With national COVID-19 restrictions still in place and uncertainty regarding post-pandemic PA environments and behaviors, a remote, YouTube-delivered PA intervention may help foster clinically meaningful improvements in young adults' free-living MVPA, muscle-strengthening PA frequency, sleep efficiency, PA-related intrinsic motivation, and perceived PA barriers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)145-156
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Sport and Health Science
Issue number2
Early online dateJul 24 2021
StatePublished - Mar 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funded by DJM's Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship through the University of Minnesota as well as DJM's Professional Development Grant through the University of Minnesota's School of Kinesiology.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021


  • High-intensity interval training
  • Resistance-training
  • Self-determination theory
  • Social media
  • Video
  • Pandemics
  • Social Media
  • Humans
  • Exercise/physiology
  • Exercise Therapy
  • COVID-19
  • Young Adult
  • Sleep
  • Adult
  • Female
  • Sedentary Behavior

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't


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