The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted a lot of heathy habits, including exercise for children. Experts say now is the time to get kids moving.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says kids and teens ages 6-17 need at least 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity every day. That was challenging pre-pandemic but these days, it’s essential.
“It’s not a choice. We have to keep kids active,” says Charlene Burgeson, executive director of the Active Schools initiative at Action for Healthy Kids, a nonprofit that works to create healthier home and school environments for kids. “It is so good for them. It is good for their physical health, it’s good for their mental health, and it helps them to engage in learning too.”
During this isolating time, prior to the start of the new school year, kids haven’t been able to play with their friends, attend school or participate in in-person activities. Plus, they’ve developed sedentary habits. According to one survey, during the pandemic, there’s been a 500 percent increase in the number of kids spending six or more hours online every day.
Burgeson says there’s too much at stake, like obesity and mental health problems, if kids don’t get the activity their bodies and minds need.
Physically active kids have higher fitness levels, lower body fat, and stronger bones and muscles. Being active can also help academic performance and memory. Exercising now can promote lifelong health and fitness habits and help prevent conditions like obesity, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.
It helps emotionally too.
“It really relieves stress and anxiety,” says physical education, health, and wellness expert Mike Smith of School Specialty. “I think regular exercise can increase their self-confidence, improve their mood, help them relax, and lower some of the symptoms of anxiety.”
Everybody needs recess
School re-openings look different across the country. Each school district has its own plans, which continue to evolve on a daily basis. Whether kids are heading back to the classroom or distance learning from home, it’s crucial that movement be incorporated into their daily education to boost their physical, mental, and social wellness.
“Everybody needs a recess, and everybody needs to play,” says Smith, who’s been a teacher for nearly 25 years.
Get creative. For example, in one of his free webinars, Smith shows how a beanbag can be a tool for skill-related and fitness activities
Burgeson encourages taking five-minute breaks throughout the day. Use short, online dance videos to entertain kids and get them moving. Many of these videos, which she calls “plug and play” are free.
Smith agrees and recommends taking brain-boost and activity breaks as well.
“Have all the kids stand and take their arms and reach for the sky, take a big breath in and blow it out,” he says. “Or ‘spell-your-name’ fitness where students take a 3-4-minute activity break, spell their first (or last) name and match an exercise to each letter.”
Right now, the focus is on getting active and staying safe during the pandemic. While kids can run and walk without gear, there are equipment options too.
School Specialty’s Physical Education Bundles are ideal for use at home or school. The bundles are considered “no-share supplies” and include items like balls, resistance bands, paddles, jump ropes, bean bags, and more. Teachers can create physical education lessons to use those items in-person or in virtual classrooms. The equipment isn’t shared by lots of kids and can be sanitized. A win-win, says Smith.
“The PE bundles are great because now it’s focused and we can do some intentional skills and activities that relate to Physical Education Standards with them and not just keep kids busy,” he says.
This is a chance for a fresh start for kids, parents and teachers.
“Nobody should feel ashamed of what they are or aren’t doing,” says Burgeson. “They should just strive to do the most and the best they can.”