9 keys to alleviate the effects of childhood sedentary lifestyle during the pandemic


We have been in a pandemic for almost a year. Over the last few months there have been numerous changes that have taken place in the legislation in order to try to reduce the upward trend of infections and deaths from coronavirus.

Despite the harshness of these rules, confinements, social isolation and teleworking have proven to be effective measures to prevent the spread of the disease. However, and without obviating the need to assume them so that the situation improves, its consequences should not be ignored.

Closure of sports facilities

Within the physical and sports field, the closure of sports centers, gyms, sports schools, restrictions to exercise in groups, limitation of physical activity in school breaks, social distance in classes Physical Education or the closure of public parks have been or are currently some of the resolutions decreed since the beginning of the state of alarm in 2020.

Due to these limitations, there has been an unprecedented sports phenomenon , such as physical activity at home. Gyms, for example, have launched apps with personalized training in order to continue offering services to their clients, and the hashtag #YoMeMuevoEnCasa has circulated, and circulates, on social networks as an initiative of different personal trainers.

What does science tell us about sedentary lifestyle?

The negative consequences of physical inactivity have not been long in coming. Various research groups from different universities have carried out studies in the last year trying to obtain new information regarding the physical inactivity caused by confinement and restrictions, especially in children and young people.

These problems related to lack of physical activity have affected the physical and psychological sphere . In relation to the first of them, cardiovascular and obesity problems can be highlighted, while, related to the latter, depression stands out above the rest , worsening this situation in women.

Mental health has therefore been the aspect that has suffered the most from confinement. In a study involving 595 confined people , an inverse relationship was observed between the increase in depressive symptoms and the levels of weekly physical activity.

Another study consisting of 4,811 participants concluded that moderate physical activity during confinement was associated with a 47% decrease in the chances of suffering from depressive symptoms. For those who did 10 hours of weekly practice, the odds of suffering from depressive symptoms were 39% lower.

Physical inactivity in the little ones

In the particular case of children and adolescents, there have been problems related to the symptoms of post-traumatic stress, aggressiveness, rebellion, obesity, emotional and behavioral regulation, causing anger, crying, fear, eating disorders and some hyperactivity.

The fact of not being able to practice sports with friends, the suspension of sports competitions or the closure of public parks has negative mental consequences in them. In this sense, from the school environment, online platforms are being used that offer the opportunity to see their classmates, not using these platforms only for academic purposes, but also as a resource to continue maintaining social relationships .

Another recent study in which 113 subjects participated (51.8% boys and 48.2% girls) between the ages of 3 and 12 warned that 69.6% of parents reported that, during confinement, their Their children presented negative emotional reactions, 31.3% sleep problems and 24.1% conduct problems.

Children who invested less time in physical exercise and made more use of screens had a greater number of negative reactions. The data therefore suggest that regular physical exercise and limiting daily screen use can benefit children’s mental health in isolation situations.

How to mitigate the consequences

Different measures are proposed at various levels, with local governments, practice environments in cities, family and friends as protagonists:

  1. First, local governments could ban vehicle traffic on the streets at certain times to promote greater participation in physical activity by ensuring social distancing in urban settings.
  2. Parks could be opened with very strong indications of where children should move to promote physical activity while maintaining social distancing outside.
  3. Volunteers could be trained to monitor that social distances are maintained between children in these leisure areas.
  4. Educational centers could promote physical activity, especially through the Physical Education area, providing videos of physical activity with challenges or challenges. All this, in order to improve the immune system through cardiovascular exercise, strength-resistance and flexibility adapted to the motor competence of the participants.
  5. In relation to the physical environment, objects found at home can be used to create circuits of activity, for example, climbing stairs, jumping objects or performing self-loading exercises (with own body weight).
  6. In the time spent outdoors, family walks (hiking), Geocaching (activity of hiding and finding “treasures” anywhere, with the help of a GPS), mountain biking, sports orientation (with compass and map) could be promoted. ). Without a doubt, where you breathe clean air, viral infection is more difficult.
  7. In the social realm, initiatives could include creating a Facebook / WhatsApp / Email group from the community, family or friends to participate in physical activity challenges – for example, tracking steps taken during a day / week / one month-.
  8. Teenagers can use mobile apps for physical activity or online fitness challenges with their friends ( MapMyRun , MyFitnessPal ), and parents should always encourage their children to be physically active by highlighting the benefits of physical activity.
  9. On a personal level, enjoyment is a critical factor, so finding creative ways to engage in physical activity that children / teens enjoy is important. This holistic process could be achieved through performing viral dances (TikTok), virtually watching physical education trainers / teacher, or physically active games, for example, Nintendo Just Dance or Wii Fit . As long as these activities are done as a family, they will be more motivating.

Individual and social responsibility

In short, it is a fact that the levels of sedentary lifestyle have increased during confinement and that this has caused various problems in the entire population, including children and adolescents, mainly related to the physical (basic physical capacities, obesity, hypertension, etc.) and psychosocial or emotional (self-esteem, physical self-concept, depression, etc.).

Those of us who work with children and young people know the devastating effects that home confinement has had, not being able to go out and socialize among equals. However, these negative effects can be diminished through the implementation of various initiatives related to physical activity and that involve not only families and the school, but also local and regional governments.

In addition, individual responsibility, faithfully and honestly complying with the advice provided by health workers to prevent Covid-19 is a fundamental fact that demonstrates empathy and commitment to others, which will facilitate safe contexts in which children can playing on the streets and in parks, something vital for their development and overall health.

Author Bios: Alejandro Prieto Ayuso is a Professor of the area of ​​Physical Education and Sixto González Víllora is a University Professor in Didactics of Physical Education and Sports both at the University of Castilla-La Mancha