The Importance of Physical Activity in Unprecedented Times

Published on: September 10, 2021

Everyone is aware of the need to exercise, but what are the benefits of embedding it in your family’s routine? A physical education specialist explains.

By Michael McFarlane

The importance of physical activity and exercise has surged to the forefront of everyone’s mind as we have had to navigate through a multitude of difficult periods. We have been inundated with initiatives and resources to support our physical needs, ranging from Joe Wicks on YouTube with The Body Coach TV, to websites such as iMoves, to extensive physical education and sport opportunities offered by schools. The need for physical activity and exercise has long been identified and established as a crucial element of a daily routine, so why now more than ever?

The UK government suggests that children aged five and younger should move for a minimum of three hours per day, which includes walking, dancing, playing, tummy time, and other activities. Children and adolescents aged five to eighteen should aim for an average of at least one hour per day of moderate to high-intensity exercise across the week. The reason behind this recommendation lies in the variety of benefits physical exercise offers, making it crucial to our families’ wellbeing during this time.

Physiological benefits, many of which are obvious, include maintaining a healthy weight, improving health and fitness, strengthening bones and muscles, improving sleep, and developing coordination. However, there are other physiological developments which are integral to a child’s development but sometimes go unappreciated. Aerobic exercise, an extended period of physical activity, increases our cardiovascular fitness, promotes the growth of new blood vessels, and improves circulation in the brain while improving children’s executive functions. These are the cognitive abilities we depend on to regulate our own behaviour. They allow us to develop the ability of the brain to form new connections and alter old ones, sustain concentration, stay focused, and shuffle information in working memory.

A study by Korczak et al. (2017) found that increased frequency and intensity of  physical activity can reduce depressive symptoms in children and young adolescents. Positive mental health impacts were only noticed when the exercise occurred regularly and often. Therefore, it is recommended to plan and embed physical activity that is appropriate for your child’s age into your daily routine. This will ensure they have time set aside to enjoy a physical release where they have the freedom and choice to play, be physically active recreationally or train at an intensity comfortable for them and their goals. Guiding children to find activities they enjoy will entice them to repeat them and even seek challenge and improvement. 

The current situation may lead to children being inactive for long periods in the same environment; therefore, it is crucial to change the scenery and, where possible, allow children to embrace alternative environments. There are a range of affordable sensory environments and resources available to us that encourage physical activity and play, including simple water play, yoga in a garden area, being in a dimly lit room with calm music, or playing games in the bathtub or shower. Being outdoors boosts the immune system and in other sensory environments, stimulates emotional and cognitive development, improves sensory skills, and helps increase attention span. Additionally, it supports improvement in the quality and quantity of sleep.

Physical activity and exercise are fantastic ways to stimulate, positively maintain, and develop relationships in the household when you find yourself in confined spaces. It is important that parents, children, and other members of their family find time to be social and bond with each other. Find time away from screens and work, and enjoy the vehicle that physical activity and exercise provide. Children naturally look for inspiration and role models, and there are none better than their own parents. Research conducted by Sport England in July 2020 showed that children who watch their parents exercise are more likely to join in. Similarly, children whose parents did less exercise than usual during lockdown were less involved in physical activity.

Of course, with the plethora of technological options available to us in the form of different apps and programs, we are able to connect with family and friends around the world. You can also use this same technology to make exercising fun and engaging through creative mediums, whether it is a group workout of the day or a family dance session. Have an arranged time to connect online to exercise. This creates accountability and commitment because with a busy, potentially unstructured schedule, it’s often the first to fall off the agenda.

Ultimately, this is a time to be positive and creative. We can enjoy physical activity and exercise to bond and improve other aspects of life for an overall better holistic wellbeing.

References

Daphne J. Korczak, Sheri Madigan and Marlena Colasanto (2017): Children’s Physical Activity and Depression: A Meta-analysis: Pediatrics, 139 (4) e20162266; DOI: https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2016-2266

Sport England (2020) Children’s experience of physical activity in lockdown Insight July 2020: https://www.thinkactive.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Sport-England-Childrens-experience-of-physical-activity.pdf

Photos courtesy of the author.

About the Author

Michael is the Whole School Director of Sport at Bangkok International Preparatory and Secondary School. He holds a degree as a Primary Physical Education Specialist along with elite-level coaching badges. He comes from a strong sporting background, having played a range of sports throughout school, and he now plays and coaches elite sports in different countries around the world. Michael is a passionate advocate of instilling positive attitudes towards physical activity and exercise as part of a healthy, holistic wellbeing in every individual.


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