The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically changed our habits and way of life. Many adults are now working from home. For children and adolescents, home learning has replaced school-based learning, introducing new challenges such as an increased reliance on online resources. As we tackle these challenges, it is useful to remind ourselves of some basics of brain health, namely the need for good sleep, appropriate nutrition, and a sufficient amount of physical exercise. I will focus here on the last point.
Physical exercise is good for our health in general: It reduces the risk of major illnesses, such as heart disease or type-2 diabetes, and protects against stress, anxiety and depression. In children, it is also associated with better learning outcomes and attention. Exercise should therefore be integrated into our new work routines, but also into children’s new study habits.
“Live group sessions, held via Zoom or Skype, can be particularly motivating. Why not gather a group of friends or family members to work out together and provide mutual encouragement?”
In the UK, the NHS recommends that young people (between the ages of 5 and 18) engage in sixty minutes of moderate-intensity activity every day. In normal times, that might include walking to school or playground activities. Now that the closing of public spaces and restrictions on social gatherings have made outdoor exercise difficult or even impossible, it can be a challenge to reach this target. During this time, it is important to check country-specific guidelines regarding outdoor activities, as they are quickly evolving in the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Indoor exercise, however, is still possible! Dancing can replace walking as a moderate-intensity activity, so why not set up a little dance area in your house? Or instead of going for a run outside, you might run up and down the stairs or do indoor aerobics and other exercises.
Plenty of exercise classes are available online that require little specialised material (e.g. ordinary workout clothing and a mat or towel). Children may already have skipping ropes, and for adolescents, it’s easy to make improvised hand weights using water bottles. Videos provide instruction on proper form, with instructors demonstrating how exercises are to be performed.
Live group sessions, held via Zoom or Skype, can be particularly motivating. Why not gather a group of friends or family members to work out together and provide mutual encouragement? This is a great way for families and children to share new, fun activities.
“The best approach is to develop a routine, set goals, and keep to a schedule.”
The best approach is to develop a routine, set goals, and keep to a schedule. That might mean exercising first thing in the morning and/or in between learning sessions, giving children the opportunity to burn off excess energy as they normally would during recess at school. The entire family can benefit from regular exercise sessions spread throughout the day.
Sitting still for several hours in a row is not healthy for adults or children. Active exercise sessions are a good opportunity for adults who are working from home to stretch their legs and release their pent-up energy, along with the rest of the family.
Regular exercise should not be seen as unproductive time, or as a waste of time. It helps relieve stress and ultimately improves focus and concentration!