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Exercise during lockdown: the benefits for children
The new lockdown

On Thursday 5th November we entered a second lockdown - this time round, with schools remaining open, parents do not have the pressure to take on PE teacher roles but with the encouragement to stay at home - how can we help children stay active during the weekends?

How we stayed active last lockdown

Last lockdown, when schools had to close, we saw a burst of creativity from parents and teachers thinking of ways to keep children active.

A million people livestreamed Joe Wicks' free online PE lessons which were aimed at getting children of all ages and even parents moving. The lessons included HIIT training (high intensity interval training) such as star jumps and squats. Joe spoke to The Guardian about his success with online PE lessons and said “If this takes just a bit of pressure off parents, and makes children a little fitter and happier, and gives them some structure to their day, then I’ve achieved what I set out to do”.

Nuffield Health reported last May that 76% of Brits took up at least one new form of exercise during lockdown. This mainly included walking, but jogging, yoga, HIIT and cycling were also popular. Many people had not exercised at home before lockdown which lead to some imaginative substitutes - over 30% of people new to weight training used tins of food or wine bottles instead of weights!

Importance of staying active

Over three quarters of adults said exercise helped them to better cope mentally with lockdown disruption.

A study by Korczak et al (2017) found that increased physical activity frequency and intensity can reduce depressive symptoms in children and young adolescents. Positive mental health impacts were only noticed when the exercise occurred regularly and often.

The government suggest that early years (birth to 5 years) should be moving for at least 180 minutes per day - this includes walking, dancing, play, tummy time and other activities. For children and adolescents (5-18 years) they should aim for an average of at least 60 minutes per day across the week. This includes sports, PE, playing, active travel (walking to school for example), dancing, swimming and more.

The benefits from this regular exercise include:

  • Improves concentration and learning
  • Strengthens bones and muscles
  • Improves health and fitness
  • Improves sleep
  • Maintains healthy weight
  • Develops coordination
  • Builds confidence and social skills

For more information on how much exercise children should be getting, you can read the UK Chief Medical Officers’ Physical Activity Guidelines.

Not only does exercise influence the child’s physical health, but also their perceptual skills, academic achievement and performance on verbal and mathematic tests.

Some schools have incorporated these findings into ‘active lessons’ which involve adapting lesson plans to involve short burst of physical activity. While the positive results of such lessons are encouraging, more research is needed to explore the feasibility of active lessons.

Physical activity has also been shown as an alternative or additional treatment for children with ADHD. A study by Donnelly et al in 2016 found that physical activity has a positive impact on children’s cognition, brain structure and brain function.
Moderate-intensity cardio-exercise has been shown to improve brain function that in turn reduces ADHD symptoms such as impulse control, inattentiveness, bad conduct and anxiety.

How to keep children active this lockdown

The Great Ormond Street Hospital stated that “It’s important to encourage your child and find activities they enjoy. This way your child will not find the exercise a chore and they are more likely to stick at it”.

Different types of activity will suit different children:

  • Does your child love to be in a team Then you could try playing football or frisbee as a family!
  • Or do they prefer planned exercise Maybe they could learn a new dance or child-friendly yoga using a YouTube instructor.
  • Maybe social time is most important to them and bike rides or walks are a great way to be together whilst being active.

13% of those who took up a new form of exercise during the last lockdown, had children wanting to join in. So, if your children keep peering round the corner while you are doing your morning yoga " feel free to invite them in to join!

Popular activities during last lockdown, as reported by The Independent, include dancing, catching bubbles and hopscotch " not what you would expect the usual PE lesson to consist of! But that is the main take-home message " parents do not need to be a PE teacher, especially during this lockdown when children can still attend school. The exercise should be enjoyable and beneficial for both parent and child.

Make sure to be safe when exercising with children by using appropriate equipment and level of intensity. For more safety tips and exercise ideas, visit the Great Ormond Street Hospital Exercise for Children and Young People page.

For more information on the latest lockdown guidelines, visit the government website for Guidance on New National Restrictions from 5 November


Sweat it out - The effects of physical exercise on cognition and behavior in children and adults with ADHD: a systematic literature review

Effects of physical activity on children's growth

Physical Activity, Fitness, Cognitive Function, and Academic Achievement in Children: A Systematic Review

Children's Physical Activity and Depression: A Meta-analysis

The Guardian A million people livestream Joe Wicks online 'PE lesson'

GOSH Exercise for children and young people

GOV New National Restrictions from 5 November

Nuffield Health Over half of Brits have taken up a new form of exercise during lockdown, with many vowing to continue with their new regimes

The Independent Lockdown: Three ways to get your kids moving and away from laptops and phones

GOV Physical Activity Guidelines

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