How to encourage physical activity in children despite the pandemic


The containment measures taken during the pandemic aimed to limit the spread of Covid-19 and the deaths caused by the virus. However, they also had an impact on the level of physical activity of the population. Children, in particular, have become noticeably more sedentary.

There is a risk that these changes in lifestyles will not stop with the pandemic . We know that habits do not take long to settle and that a sedentary lifestyle can easily become ordinary for young people.

How to encourage children to move more? There are ways to create family dynamics and make exercise a routine.

A global trend

The impact of the measures taken to combat the Covid epidemic has been the subject of research all over the world.

For example, Canadian researchers conducted an online survey of the parents of 1,472 young people during the restriction periods. They found that only 4.8% of the children had a level of physical activity in line with the recommendations in this area – ie 1 hour of moderate to moderate physical activity per day.

Another study targeted 211 parents of American children between the ages of 5 and 13. It showed that, during confinement, children spent 90 minutes a day sitting for school activities and then an additional 8 hours sitting for leisure purposes.

In Shanghai, China, a survey of 2,426 young people aged 6 to 17 compared their level of activity before and during the pandemic. She revealed that, overall, the time young people spend in physical activity has dropped significantly, from around 9 hours per week to less than 2 hours. At the same time, the time spent in front of a screen has increased by approximately 30 hours per week.

In Italy, the echoes are the same. The researchers compared the behaviors of a group of 41 obese children before the pandemic and three weeks after the confinement was put in place. The time spent by these children playing sports decreased while sleep and screen time increased.

How to get back into business

Given the many benefits of a sporting activity, both for physical well-being and for psychological well-being, children should be given as many opportunities as possible to move.

Family investment plays an important role in children’s activity levels. Parental encouragement and participation in organized games or sports goes hand in hand with an increase in children’s activity, whether indoors or outdoors.

Research has also shown that having a companion dog can encourage children to move more .

One way to overcome the uncertainties linked to Covid is to set up routines and structured activities. The fact that a certain number of things are predictable in their domestic universe can greatly help children to cope with the unforeseen circumstances of the environment around them and to feel cared for. This may include scheduling regular family walks on weekends, or after school, or sports sessions.

The children like to participate in dance, swimming or football lessons. If sports clubs closed their doors in confinement, many have now reopened and are helping children to socialize while keeping in good physical shape.

For some people however, these courses are no longer an option. In some cases, the associations and clubs attended have closed, in others, it is the families who no longer have the same income as before the pandemic and therefore cannot afford to enroll their child. Sometimes, too, parents worry about attending group activities in times of Covid. And this has effects on daily practices: in Canada, the parents who were the most anxious during the pandemic went to the park less often than the others.

With the confinements emerged online fitness programs accessible to children. This is an alternative to seize when parents fear the return to traditional classrooms.

Author Bio: Alison Owen is a Lecturer in Health Psychology at Staffordshire University