Physical Activity and COVID-19 for Kids

Staying active inside and outside while physical distancing

By Pascale Messier, Public Health Dietitian, Ottawa Public Health May 21, 2020

With our regular routines out the window and the challenge of managing work, school and family life all under the same roof, it has become more difficult keeping children physically active. Even during this stressful COVID-19 pandemic with the physical distancing and restrictions to stay safe, it is still very important to find ways to stay active. Children and youths need to move, be active regularly and get outside as often as possible for overall health and wellbeing. 

According to Dr. Mark Tremblay, senior research scientist at CHEO and professor of pediatrics at the University of Ottawa: 

It is important for children’s health to get outdoors. Especially now, in the COVID-19 context, where regular routine is disrupted and coping strategies are being challenged, connecting with nature and spending time outdoors may be even more beneficial for health. 

The benefits of outdoor play are important for the physical and mental health of children and youth. Being outside has many great benefits:

  • enhances mood 
  • prevents anxiety 
  • reduces anger, stress and fear 

It also contributes to the physical well-being of children such as:

  • reducing blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension 
  • increasing physical activity levels

Playing outdoors also gives much needed sunlight, boosting vitamin D levels, which helps to absorb essential minerals important to growth and development and also boosts our healthy immune system.

Enjoying the weather and getting outside is safe, but it’s important that public health guidelines are respected and followed to keep our children safe and preventing the spread of coronavirus. 

Encourage children and teens to get outside for walks, runs, biking or even inline skating, as long as a distance of two meters is maintained from others. When moving at a fast pace (such as when running or cycling), it is best to stay as far away from others as possible. Remember to avoid crowded areas too! Sidewalks, streets and multi-use paths are still available, A quick reminder to be respectful when passing someone, try to side-step to allow for the two-meter distance, and pass others quickly. Plan out your route with your family and the day of time so that you can get out at a less busy time to avoid others. City park greenspaces are available for you and the members of your household to enjoy. Keep in mind that household members should keep physically distant from others (at least 2 meters).

City park greenspaces outdoor sports facilities and multi-use fields, including baseball diamonds, soccer fields, frisbee golf locations, tennis, platform tennis, table tennis and pickleball courts, basketball courts, BMX parks and skate parks, are now open. Off-leash dog areas, benches, picnic areas and shelters are also open and available for you and the members of your household to enjoy. Sports fields and grenspaces are available for casual use only, respecting physical distancing measures of at least 2 metres and groups of no more than five people.

For families with a yard the possibilities are endless. Children and teens play soccer, badminton, just toss the ball around, or chase each other. Organize family play time in the yard and let the children create their own games or obstacle course with objects found in the house.  Use your driveway and draw a hopscotch game or King’s Square for all to play.

As soon as children go outside, they automatically get into active mode. To children, outside means running, skipping, jumping, tossing a ball, getting on their bikes and exploring all that nature has to offer. Research does show that when children go outside, they tend to be twice as active than when staying in. When children go outside, they move more, sit less and play longer, which are all important to maintain physical and mental health.

Consider taking micro breaks throughout your day to throw in a little physical activity outside with your kids. Sixty minutes may be accumulated throughout the day, in shorter bouts. This may be more feasible if you are working at home and can’t get away for too long. Create a new routine and set designated times for these daily breaks of fresh air and physical activity. 

If you really cannot get kids to go outside regularly, find a safe area in your home for them to be active: let them dance to fun music, try yoga together or make spring cleaning fun and active (listening to music helps!). Many online resources such as Participaction and The Ottawa Public Library’s Isolation Recreation, among others, can help you and your family stay active with indoor physical activity.

Be active regularly and get the family outside as much possible. Unless you are self-isolating, practicing physical distancing can include going outside- safely. 

Stay fit and stay safe!

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