Keeping Kids Active During COVID-19 Pandemic: What Parents Can Do
Promote physical activity and reduce childhood obesity risk factors associated with school closures
- Parents across the country are attempting to find new ways to keep their children physically active in the wake of lengthy school closures and stay-at-home orders due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- In a recent article, public health scientists predict that school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic will increase risk factors for childhood obesity that are often associated with summer break.
- Exercise is especially important for kids during the COVID-19 pandemic because it can reduce stress, prevent weight gain, and boost the immune system.
- Parents can safely promote physical activity by making exercise a family activity, encouraging outdoor play, using online videos or virtual classes, creating fitness challenges, and assigning calorie-burning chores.
Researchers believe that extended school closures due to COVID-19 could increase risk factors for weight gain in kids. Childhood obesity is a significant risk factor for obesity in adulthood, which is linked to health problems such as diabetes and heart disease.
Here’s what parents need to know about the importance of keeping kids active to reduce risk factors for childhood obesity despite community and school closures and social distancing.
How do community and school closures increase risk factors for childhood obesity?
During school closures, parents across the country are finding it challenging to limit their kids’ screen time and encourage physical activity — especially while balancing working from home, managing the household, and overseeing online school lessons. It’s a lot! Closures of businesses, parks, and other public places have forced many kids to temporarily abandon spring sports and activities. Social distancing may also reduce the opportunity for children to exercise, especially if outdoor physical activity is not an option due to shelter-in-place orders, crowded outdoor spaces, bad weather, or other factors.
Increased screen time is also associated with increased snacking. Additionally, families and kids are coping with increased boredom and stress, which are two emotions that have been linked to overeating.
Why is exercise important for kids during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Regular exercise is essential for everyone, including kids — and you’ve no doubt heard about the many benefits of physical activity. However, here are a few reasons why exercise is especially crucial for kids during the COVID-19 pandemic:
- Exercise boosts the immune system: Research shows that regular, moderate-intensity exercise has immune-boosting benefits that may help children and adults to fight off infections, including COVID-19.
- Exercise may prevent weight gain: During the pandemic, families have fewer opportunities for exercise and may be forced to change their dietary habits. Exercise can help kids burn calories and offset the effects of sedentary activities.
- Exercise reduces stress and anxiety: Just like adults, children may also be experiencing stress, anxiety, and sadness during these challenging times. Exercise is a proven mood-booster and can help children reduce their stress levels and build emotional resilience.
How can I help my child stay physically active during COVID-19 closures?
There are many ways your child can be active, even while practicing social distancing. According to recommendations from the American Heart Association, kids aim for 60 minutes of moderate or vigorous physical activity per day. Here are a few suggestions to get your child moving:
- Exercise as a family: Children will be more motivated to exercise if the entire family participates. Family walks, bike rides, dance parties, living-room yoga sessions, or backyard soccer games are just a few examples of how your household members can exercise together.
- Encourage outdoor activity: Whenever possible, encourage your child to get outside, even for a quick stroll around the block or a game of catch with a sibling. Several 10-minute outdoor exercise sessions can quickly add up to a full workout.
- Watch online exercise videos: Many online services offer exercise videos geared toward children. Additionally, many sports clubs, exercise studios, schools, and other community organizations are providing on-demand virtual fitness content for kids.
- Take a class: If you have the financial resources, consider supporting your local fitness studio or personal trainer by signing up for online fitness classes or training sessions. Some personal trainers will even host a private virtual “gym class” or sport-specific training session for young athletes who want to work out from home.
- Make it a challenge: Work with your child to set an age-appropriate exercise goal, such as five bike rides per week or 50 push-ups in a row, to motivate them to keep moving.
- Assign calorie-burning chores: Chores such as mowing the lawn, working in the garden, washing the car, or cleaning out the garage provide excellent opportunities for kids to build muscles and burn calories. Consider assigning your kids age-appropriate jobs that do double-duty by helping you accomplish household tasks.
The bottom line: When combined with a healthy diet, regular physical activity can help kids to stay fit while school is closed. Taking steps to minimize your child’s risk factors for childhood obesity during the COVID-19 pandemic — and all year long — will lay the foundation for a lifetime of good health.