Changes in urban walking before and during COVID-19 in a metropolitan city of South Korea


Physical activity, Social distancing, Pandemic, Health promotion, Active living


This study aimed to assess how the social distancing measures impacted the choice of walking as a transportation mode, environmental preferences for walking, and walking practice among urban residents in Seoul, the capital city of South Korea. Data were collected through an online survey from September 21 to September 28, 2020, when the second level of social distancing measures was implemented; 2,112 participants aged 19 or older were included in the analysis. During COVID-19, the choice of walking as a means of transportation increased by 10.1%p, while the choice of public transportation decreased by 16.9%p. Environmental preferences for walking were more than moderate in neighborhood public open spaces, neighborhood streets, and riverside trails. Walking practice by purposes decreased significantly during COVID-19, especially in utilitarian walking. The study suggests that social distancing measures have a visible negative effect on walking practice among urban residents, as well as an invisible effect on perceived environment and choice of transportation mode in the metropolitan city. To break the physical inactivity habits established during COVID-19, guidelines for promoting walking should be developed, focusing on the frequency of walking practice. In the post-COVID-19 era, urban and transportation planning in metropolitan cities need to be reviewed focusing on the development of neighborhood assets related to walking and activation of active transportation.


Caputo, E. L., & Reichert, F. F. (2020). Studies of physical activity and COVID-19 during the pandemic: A scoping review. Journal of Physical Activity and Health, 1(AOP), 1-10.

Choe, Y. J., & Lee, J. K. (2020). The impact of social distancing on the transmission of influenza virus, South Korea, 2020. Osong Public Health and Research Perspectives, 11(3), 91-92.

Chomistek, A. K., Manson, J. E., Stefanick, M. L., Lu, B., Sands-Lincoln, M., Going, S. B., ... & Eaton, C. B. (2013). Relationship of sedentary behavior and physical activity to incident cardiovascular disease: Results from the Women's Health Initiative. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 61(23), 2346-2354.

Fong, M. W., Gao, H., Wong, J. Y., Xiao, J., Shiu, E. Y., Ryu, S., & Cowling, B. J. (2020). Nonpharmaceutical measures for pandemic influenza in nonhealthcare settings--social distancing measures. Emerging Infectious Diseases, 26(5), 976-985.

Ha, J., Lee, T., & Shin, E. (2015). Social Inter-Floor Noiseproof Measures According to Experiences of Conflict in Multi-Family Housing. Journal of the Korean housing association, 26(6), 1-8.

Hall, G., Laddu, D. R., Phillips, S. A., Lavie, C. J., & Arena, R. (2021). A tale of two pandemics: How will COVID-19 and global trends in physical inactivity and sedentary behavior affect one another?. Progress in cardiovascular diseases, 64, 108.

Kim, E. A. (2020). Social distancing and public health guidelines at workplaces in Korea: responses to Coronavirus disease-19. Safety and Health at Work, 11(3), 275-283.

Kim, D. H., Chung, C. K., Lee, J., Kim, K. K., JeKarl, J., & Yoo, S. (2018). A systems thinking approach to explore the structure of urban walking and health promotion in Seoul. Korean Journal of Health Education and Promotion, 35(5), 1-16. (Korean)

Kim, H. M., & Han, S. S. (2012). Seoul. Cities, 29(2), 142-154.

Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency. (2020). 2019 Community health survey questionnaire. Osong, Korea: Author. (Korean)

Korea Internet and Security Agency. (2020). 2020 KISA report. Naju, Korea: Author. (Korean)

Lee, E., & Choi, H. (2015). Urban community formation process in the city of Seoul: Case of Seodaemun-gu community building project. The Korea Spatial Planning Review, 84, 75-94. (Korean)

Lee, J., Kim, D. H., & Yoo, S. (2020). Factors associated with Seoul citizen’s utilitarian and leisure walking. Seoul Studies, 21(4), 233-253. (Korean)

Lee, W. H., & Kim, Y. U. (2001). A study on the transformation of spatial morphology of Seoul -the analysis of spatial configuration using space syntax. Journal of the Urban Design Institute of Korea Urban Design, 3(1), 41-57. (Korean)

Lim, H. (2021). Public transportation passengers in Seoul plunged last year due to Corona. Retrieved June 05, 2021, from

Lim, S., Lim, H., & Després, J. P. (2020). Collateral damage of the COVID-19 pandemic on nutritional quality and physical activity: Perspective from South Korea. Obesity, 28(10), 1788-1790.

Louro, A., Franco, P., & Marques da Costa, E. (2021). Determinants of Physical Activity Practices in Metropolitan Context: The Case of Lisbon Metropolitan Area, Portugal. Sustainability, 13(18), 10104.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Korea. (2020). All about Korea’s response to COVID-19. Seoul, Korea: Task Force for Tackling COVID-19, Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Korea.

Madhuripan, N., Cheung, H. M., Cheong, L. H. A., Jawahar, A., Willis, M. H., & Larson, D. B. (2020). Variables influencing radiology volume recovery during the next phase of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. Journal of the American College of Radiology, 17(7), 855-864.

Min, K. D., Kang, H., Lee, J. Y., Jeon, S., & Cho, S. I. (2020). Estimating the effectiveness of non-pharmaceutical interventions on COVID-19 control in Korea. Journal of Korean Medical Science, 35(35), e321.

Ministry of Land Infrastructure and Transport. (2020). Public Transportation Investigation (2011~2019). Sejong city, Korea: Author. (Korean)

Oh, K., & Jeong, S. (2007). Assessing the spatial distribution of urban parks using GIS. Landscape and urban planning, 82(1-2), 25-32.

Park, B., & Cho, J. (2021). Older adults' avoidance of public transportation after the outbreak of COVID-19: Korean subway evidence. Healthcare (Basel, Switzerland), 9(4), 448.

Park, J. H., Yoo, E., Kim, Y., & Lee, J. M. (2021). What happened pre-and during COVID-19 in South Korea? Comparing physical activity, sleep time, and body weight status. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(11), 5863.

Scorrano, M., & Danielis, R. (2021). Active mobility in an Italian city: Mode choice determinants and attitudes before and during the Covid-19 emergency. Research in Transportation Economics, 86, 101031.

Seong, E. Y., Lee, N. H., & Choi, C. G. (2021). Relationship between land use mix and walking choice in high-density cities: A review of walking in Seoul, South Korea. Sustainability, 13(2), 810.

Seoul Metropolitan Government. (2021). Seoul open data plaza. Retrieved June 08, 2021, from

Seoul Metropolitan Government. (2018). Seoul Public Transportation. Seoul, Korea: Author.

Seoul Transport Operation and Information Service. (2021). Traffic status. Retrieved June 07, 2021, from

Shon, C. (2021). The role of cities as the first responder to pandemics: Focusing on the case of the Seoul Metropolitan Government’s response to the COVID-19. Journal for Peace and Nuclear Disarmament, 4(sup1), 60-72.

Stockwell, S., Trott, M., Tully, M., Shin, J., Barnett, Y., Butler, L., McDermott, D., Schuch, F., & Smith, L. (2021). Changes in physical activity and sedentary behaviours from before to during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown: A systematic review. BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine, 7(1), e000960.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2018). Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans 2nd edition. Washington: Author.

World Health Organization. (2021). WHO coronavirus (COVID-19) dashboard. Retrieved October 01, 2021, from

World Health Organization. (2020). COVID-19 Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) global research and innovation forum: Towards a research roadmap. Geneva, Switzerland: Author.

World Health Organization. (2010). Global recommendations on physical activity for health. Geneva, Switzerland: Author.

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Copyright (c) 2021 Array