Keeping kids active during the COVID-19 pandemic: What parents can do

Keeping kids active during the COVID-19 pandemic: What parents can do

Promote physical activity and reduce childhood obesity risk factors associated with pandemic

Summary:

  • Parents across the country are attempting to find ways to keep their kids physically active in the wake of remote learning and limited opportunities to participate in youth sports due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Public health scientists predict that these changes to kids’ schedules during 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 and distance learning due to COVID-19 could increase risk factors for weight gain in kids. Childhood obesity is a 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 their kids active to reduce risk factors for childhood obesity during the pandemic.

How does the COVID-19 pandemic impact risk factors for childhood obesity?

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!

Public health guidelines for recreational activities that include capacity limitations, cleaning protocols, mask wearing, and social distancing may also reduce the opportunity for kids to exercise.

Increased screen time is 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 kids 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, kids may also be experiencing stress, anxiety, and sadness during these challenging times. Exercise is a proven mood-booster and can help kids reduce their stress levels and build emotional resilience.

Related article: Exercise is essential for well-being during COVID-19 pandemic

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 should 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: Kids 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 kids to get outside, even for a quick stroll around the block or a game of catch. 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 kids. 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.

Related article: Tips on talking to kids about the COVID-19 pandemic

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.

Nuvance Health is keeping the communities informed on our website at nuvancehealth.org/coronavirus, and on social media @NuvanceHealth, or search for your hospital’s name.