COVID-19 is harming the physical health of young Canadians, scientists and school boards

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Just 5% of Canadian children were meeting basic physical activity guidelines at the start of the pandemic, which is why school-based physical education programs are now looking for alternatives to get students to sweat safely.Due to physical distancing measures and the increase in distance learning, children have had more sedentary time during the pandemic, which has impacted schools that plan physical education.

The Toronto District School Board, for example, has called on gym teachers to cancel fall fitness training after physical education instructors reported that students’ physical activity levels were alarmingly high up to present.

“They noticed that the children are immediately short of breath, so the lack of physical activity that has occurred over the past seven months is visible,” said George Kourtis, who heads the TDSB’s physical education program.

Even so, educators say it is imperative that children get exercise. But with that comes challenges in a distance learning environment.

WATCH | Schools are adapting as children lack exercise during lockdown:

At one point in the pandemic, only 5% of Canadian children met minimum physical activity requirements. Now, physical education programs in schools face new challenges in getting kids moving without most team sports due to the distance requirements. 4:10

Jennifer Bell, a grade 11 physical education teacher at TDSB Virtual School, recently demonstrated to a class of jumps by doing the movements to her laptop screen. But the students turned off their cameras, which made learning more difficult.

“How do you teach sports skills while you are standing in your living room? Bell said. “You don’t necessarily have another opponent or a partner to play a sport with. This is where we try to be creative. “

Physical distance football

Getting creative includes activities like juggling to practice motor skills and having students regularly enter their 15-second heart rate readings to show that their heart rate increases with participation, Bell said.

Maryam Sabir, 14, is attending grade 9 physical training in person in Toronto. Maryam said the rules of physical distance brought a new twist to learning football.

Sagier Abdul takes part in a soccer lesson at his Toronto high school earlier this month. (Craig Chivers / CBC)

“You had to stay six feet from each other,” both horizontally and vertically, said Maryam. “You can’t really communicate with other people. It becomes more difficult to play in the game. ”

Maryam said she liked to be physically active. At the end of physical education class next month, she plans to continue training by playing basketball or soccer with friends.

Importance of movement

National health guidelines recommend that children and youth (ages 5-17) have high levels of physical activity, low levels of sedentary behavior, and adequate sleep each day, including:

  • An accumulation of at least 60 minutes per day of moderate to vigorous physical activity (such as walking fast enough to still be able to speak but not sing).
  • Nine to 11 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night for ages 5 to 13 and 8 to 10 hours per night for ages 14 to 17, with consistent bed and wake times.
  • No more than two hours per day of recreational screen time.

Mark Tremblay, principal obesity researcher at the CHEO Research Institute in Ottawa, was part of a team that surveyed more than 1,400 parents of children and youth online nationwide in April, roughly a month after the declaration of the COVID-19 pandemic in Canada.

Before the pandemic, about 15% of children followed Canada’s 24-hour guidelines for physical activity, sedentary lifestyle and sleep, Tremblay said.

Kids do a workout in Coronado, Calif., Park in March. Public health messages about staying home are important, but that doesn’t mean you have to stay indoors, an obesity researcher said. (Gregory Bull / Associated Press)

He found that movement levels had dropped as low as 3 percent during the first days of the restrictions.

“Almost no Canadian child practiced the healthy lifestyle behaviors associated with health, which puts them at increased risk, of course, for physical and mental health problems in the future,” Tremblay said, which “Is not what public health officials want. . ”

The study, published this summer in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, suggested the pandemic was not entirely to blame. But certain factors could increase the likelihood of healthy movement behaviors outside of school, including:

  • Encouragement and parental support.
  • Parents actively play with their children.
  • Dog property.

The lack of physical activity was also influenced by the living conditions of the children. Children who spent more time doing outdoor activities were more likely to live in a house than in a 40-story apartment building downtown where families might not feel safe playing. outside, Tremblay said.

Tremblay said public health messages about staying home are important, “but that doesn’t mean staying indoors.”

Scientists plan to repeat their survey of children’s physical activity levels in early November.

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