By: Caitlyn Mooney, M.D., Orthopaedic Sports Medicine
There is a lot of uncertainty in terms of what the new normal will be in the upcoming months. While there are on-going discussions, no one knows when sports will be returning and what restrictions will be implemented upon return. Even if your child cannot participate in their usual physical education class or sporting activities, it is important to ensure that they are still active.
Benefits of Physical Activity
Physical activity has numerous immediate health benefits, such as improved sleep and school performance. In regards to long term health, it reduces the risk of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, some cancers, and improves bone health. Exercise also offers mental health benefits as it is an excellent outlet for children to deal with stressors and has been shown to reduce the risk of mood disorders and anxiety. Sports and physical activity often results in improved self-esteem. Additionally, while there are no studies specifically related to the risk of COVID infection, scientific studies suggest that physical exercise results in fewer infections amongst children. Assisting your child in developing optimal habits at an early age makes it more likely they live an active, healthy lifestyle as an adult.
Physical Activity Recommendations
At baseline, only about 25% of children get the recommended amount of daily activity. Surveys suggest that people are not as active as they were before COVID, which is likely due to both fear and inability to participate in preferred activities due to restrictions. We have no data on physical activity in children during the COVID pandemic. Still, we do know that children are less likely to get the recommended amount of activity during the summer break.
Physical activity should be part of your child's daily routine. Some tips for increasing your child's physical activity include setting limits on screen time, encouraging your kids to take breaks from sitting throughout the day and going out for short activity sessions to break up the monotony. You can also look for child-oriented fitness or dance classes online to add some variety to your routine. With some creativity, you and your family can find ways to have fun and be physically active within the current rules and guidelines.
Recommended physical activity guidelines are based on age. Activities should be tailored to the individual child's development and skills. Children of all ages enjoy both organized as well as free play activities. The whole family can often participate in activities such as bike rides as well as nature hikes. The love of physical activity is more likely to stick if children see their parents and family members enjoying it together.
For older children, physical activity recommendations include moderate to vigorous activities. Moderate physical activity includes brisk walking or a leisure bike ride. Vigorous activities are activities where your child sweats and gets out of breath. Examples of this include running and swimming laps. Additionally, if your child is not used to being physically active, they should gradually increase their activity. Too rapid increases can result in overuse injuries. If you are new to physical activity, do not get discouraged if you cannot complete an online class or have to take breaks. Over time you will notice progress. Below are highlights of recommendations for all of the pediatric age groups:
Infants: Physical activity starts in infancy with encouraging 30 minutes a day of tummy time throughout the day as well as activities such as pushing, reaching, crawling, and sitting up.
Toddlers: 1-2-year-olds should get 180 minutes of physical activity throughout the day, combining planned or guided activity as well as free play. Good exercises for toddlers during the pandemic include making music with household objects, exploring the outside with a parent at a park or in the yard, hunting for bugs, play with a sprinkler or hose, playing in a baby pool, playing with sand, seated ball rolling and dancing.
Preschoolers: Preschoolers should get at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous play per day. Preschoolers will enjoy many of the same activities that toddlers do, but they can understand rules and develop skills in kicking, throwing, and catching. Thus ball sports can be introduced. Outdoor scavenger hunts, obstacle courses or mini olympic competitions can add some fun variety. Preschoolers also love gymnastics and dance. Children can also help you with tasks such as gardening or washing the car.
School-Age Children: School-aged children should get 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity daily. Strenuous activity, as well as bone and muscle-strengthening activities, should be done three times a week. Children in this age group will often appreciate more sport-specific skills such as playing catch, playing soccer, and shooting hoops besides the activities mentioned above. They also enjoy games such as tag, jump rope, hopscotch, and roller skating. Walking around the neighborhood and talking is also an excellent activity for the family.
Adolescents: Like school-aged children, adolescents should get 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity daily. Strenuous exercise, as well as bone and muscle-strengthening activities, should be done three times a week. Late elementary school and middle school age groups are typically when children begin to get less active. Sport-specific drills and practice may appeal to children who are involved in organized sports. Adolescents who are not engaged in competitive sports could enjoy activities such as hiking, walking, dance, running for fitness, weight lifting, and fitness workouts. There are many apps and YouTube videos that have various fitness workouts. Adolescents can also help with cutting the grass and other household tasks.
Most importantly, the emphasis should be on fun. Let your child lead. If they do not feel like practicing the sport they play most of the year, allow them to do other activities during the break. If your child is typically inactive, encourage them to get dressed and go out for a daily activity. Better yet, join them to demonstrate your commitment to an active lifestyle. Keep in mind that even small amounts of physical activity can have health benefits. So if you are not able to do the recommended amount of exercise initially, do not get frustrated. Remember to follow the current recommendations of the CDC: practice social distancing, cover your face where it is recommended and practice good hand hygiene. Currently, the CDC does not recommend using high touch pubic facilities such as local playgrounds and gyms. Check local websites for information on closures of local facilities and parks. Best practices are to only participate in activities with people in the same household.
Some links to expand your families activities include:
San Antonio Sports: Online classes, i play! at home, Family Fit Challenge, and Alpha Warriors 12 week fitness challenge: http://sanantoniosports.org/stay-active-stay-healthy/
YMCA virtual online classes: https://ymcasatx.org/virtualymca
The Union Fitness & Fun: Free livestream classes https://www.theunionsa.com/schedule/
Cycle Hub: Youtube videos- includes a child playlist https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCF-HBA4pVAQhUtd9P6L6p9w
Move United: Adaptive sports at home. https://www.moveunitedsport.org/adaptathome/
GoNoodle: Includes weekly activities on video as well as additional permanent videos. Also has an app with “video games” that require movement. http://family.gonoodle.com
OPEN: Online Physical Education Network https://openphysed.org/activeschools/activehome
Playworks: Play at Home. https://www.playworks.org/get-involved/play-at-home/
FIT Kids Home Fitness Program: https://fitkids.org/homeworkouts/