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Tips for keeping children active during COVID-19

By Dr. Simone Battibugli

Worldwide, the outbreak of COVID-19 has completely changed families’ lifestyles, impacting directly on children’s quality of life and welfare. With many confined to their homes, local parks and schools closed, and opportunities for physical activities limited, children of all ages have been missing friends, as well as the routine of school, sports and other extracurricular endeavors.

 

Within this potentially distressing scenario, parents have been struggling to keep their children emotionally supported, healthy and physically active. Developing a plan together with their children to reestablish some sense of normality in regards to physical activities can be beneficial, even if it is difficult. It is practically impossible to recreate the environment of physical activities that children have in regular circumstances, however, it is important to remember that physical activity can be anything that gets the body moving, makes breathing quicker, and hearts beat faster. Most importantly, the committed effort and participation of the family in planning a strategy of exercising together is already beneficial from the child’s perspective, as it can help restore the feeling of connectedness that has been missing.

Most international guidelines recommend the amount and intensity of activity by age. For the following guidelines, the definitions of intensity are:

  • Vigorous exercise means that you can’t talk during the activity. 
  • Moderate exercise means you can talk, but you can’t sing while practicing the activity.
  • Suggested activities for children of all ages can be found at the end of this article.

Children 0–5 years

It is important for infants, toddlers and preschoolers to be active every day. It encourages healthy development of the body and brain.

The following physical activities are recommended for babies and small children:

  • You can encourage babies from newborns to one-year-olds to play under supervision on the floor. Tummy time gives babies opportunities to develop their muscles and improves body-brain connection as they move onto activities like reaching, rolling, sitting up and crawling.
  • Toddlers (aged one to three years) and preschoolers (three to five years) need at least three hours of physical activity every day, and you can spread this throughout day, performing different activities.
  • It is recommended that children younger than two years old do not have any screen time (that is, watching television or use any electronic media including using computers or other electronic devices). 
  • It’s recommended children aged two to five years have less than one hour of screen time per day.

Children 5–12 years

Being active does not just keep children physically healthy, but also provides an opportunity to build character, social and life skills.

  • Children aged five to 12 need at least one hour of moderate to vigorous exercise every day. Include a variety of aerobic activities such as walking, running, jumping, skipping or cycling, and make some of it fits the definition of ‘vigorous’ above. 
  • Strengthening activities are important too. Children of this age should participate in strengthening activities at least three days every week. These include body weight activities such as climbing, swinging, jumping and skipping. Stretching it is also very important, and martial arts and yoga training are excellent choices. 
  • It is recommended that children aged five to 12 limit screen time to less than two hours each day. It is important to avoid sitting for a long time, and there are fewer health risks if they use electronic devices for less than two hours per day.

 

 

Young people 13–17 years

Teenagers go through a lot of life changes. Parents often complain about their teenagers’ behavior and attitude, but one must recognize that is not easy growing up in a busy family with modern, hectic lifestyles. At least in this respect, lifestyle changes imposed by COVID-19 outbreak can be positive, exposing parenting problems and creating opportunities to modulate conflicting familial relationships. It is certainly a very challenging time to try to keep teenagers active, but it is worth putting some effort into it.

  • Young people aged 13–17 years need at least one hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day, including a variety of aerobic exercise and other vigorous activities.
  • Strengthening and stretching exercises are important too and some form of these should be practiced at least three days every week.
  • It is recommended that teenagers limit screen time to less than two hours each day. It is a good idea to avoid sitting for a long time, and there are fewer health risks if they use electronics less than two hours per day.

Fun activities that can be performed indoors or in the garden, under adult supervision where necessary, for children of all ages:

  • Creating an obstacle course
  • Playing musical chairs
  • Freeze dancing
  • Rope jumping
  • Frisbee throwing
  • Flying kites
  • Learning to do headstands
  • Training for high or long jumps
  • Balloon tennis or volleyball
  • Table tennis - family tournament
  • Balance beams
  • Following yoga or Pilates videos