By Katrina Rozga CCC MC (Psych)
Children in Hong Kong typically do a lot of sitting. Sitting at school, sitting on the bus, sitting in extra classes after school, sitting to do homework, and then sitting around playing video games or chatting with friends on their phones.
With the current novel coronavirus health threat in Hong Kong, schools are closed, sports pitches are off-limits, and many activity classes are suspended. Kids are likely sitting around the house more than ever.
We all know that very sedentary lifestyles contribute to both physical and mental ill-health. Parents need to prioritise daily exercise for their kids, even in these eventful times. It’s one of the easiest and most impactful ways to reap a wide variety of physical, mental, social, and even academic benefits.
Better mental health
Activities that get kids moving mitigate a variety of mental health problems. Exercise is proven to relieve stress, anxiety and depression, including managing fearful feelings about the current health concerns.
There is also evidence that beginning to exercise at a young age can help to reduce rates of anxiety and depression when children transition into adolescence.
Physical activity also has a positive effect on children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Kids with ADHD show improvements in reading comprehension and arithmetic after exercise. As a result, exercise a is common part of ADHD treatment plans.
Calm and focused
One study found that kids who exercised also had higher levels of attentional inhibition and greater cognitive flexibility. These effects have obvious beneficial effects at school or during home studies, helping improve concentration and keeping kids calm and focused.
Exercise imparts physical benefits beyond muscular and cardiovascular health. It also improves kids’ ability to regulate their own dietary urges. So exercise has a twofold effect on helping maintain a healthy weight: by consuming stored calories and managing appetite.
Organized sports and unstructured play
Physical activity provides a unique environment for social communication and engagement. It gives kids a chance to make new friends, practice social skills, and improve on their soft skills. These skills are built as part of a fun, action-filled process. Team sports especially teach kids to work with others, how to fail and rise again, how to support others, and feel like part of a team or a group.
And while organised sports are beneficial, other activities such as playing at the playground, hiking with family, boogie-boarding at the beach, throwing around a frisbee with friends or other unstructured physical activities are also essential. They teach kids that physical activity can be spontaneous, joyful, and always accessible.
A mix of activities is also beneficial as it allows kids to explore a range of movement and experiences, building a broad sense of confidence and competence.
Active Every Day
Current recommendations state that kids should get a minimum of 60 minutes of exercise every day. With that in mind, here are a few things to keep in mind:
It’s a family thing
Involve everyone and do it consistently. Take a hike or do an online yoga class together. The more parents are involved, the more the kids will follow. Parents need to model that they believe physical activity is important by putting down their work, and making time to exercise.
You can stay indoors
If you live somewhere without access to outdoor space, or are you trying to avoid crowds there are many good options for indoor exercise. YouTube has scores of guided activities for kids, including yoga, dances, fun workout routines, and even home gymnastics for all levels. Many gaming systems have games that require you to get up and move.
It is great if your child wants to join a competitive sports team. But there are many ways for kids to get active if they do not enjoy competition. Dancing, martial arts, yoga, trail running or just attending swim lessons are all avenues to get active without the pressure to win. Always encourage your kids to participate and improve regardless of what activity they choose.
Is your child anxious and fearful about the big changes to his or her routine? Call the BFDC, we can help. We offer online therapy for families who do not wish to travel at this time. Click HERE for details.