When we asked readers recently what they wanted to know about the coronavirus and exercise, many parents responded with variations of the question — or in some instances, the cri de coeur — of, how do I get my kids to move more and stop sitting all day in front of laptops, phones and televisions?
It's a legitimate concern.
"A growing body of evidence shows excessive sitting to be linked with various health risks, low self-esteem and decreased academic achievement in school-aged children and youth," said Taija Juutinen Finni, a professor of health sciences at the University of Jyvaskyla in Finland who studies inactivity in young people.
But how do we encourage young people to be more active without making activity one more draining chore? Exercise scientists and coaches, some of them also parents, had some suggestions.
Chase Bubbles and Dance
Parents' primary goal should be to find a way — any way — to encourage homebound offspring to get up and move, at least a little, said Stuart Phillips, the director of the Centre for Nutrition, Exercise and Health Research at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.
"Getting some kind of physical activity every day greatly improves their mood, sleep and, of course, their health," Phillips said.
The current federal physical activity guidelines recommend that children and teenagers exercise for at least an hour a day, while preschoolers between the ages of 3 and 5 should be up and whizzing about for three hours or more. But, for now, young people "should just try to get out of breath once in a while," Juutinen Finni said.
To that end, the researchers recommend that, in technical parlance, you let the wild rumpus start.
"Hopping, skipping, ball toss, bear crawls and crab walks can be fun ways to engage younger kids," said Samantha Stephens, a pediatric exercise physiologist and research fellow at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto.