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Exercise

Children’s physical activity fell by a fifth during pandemic

Young people should take part in an hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity each day.

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leisure, technology and children concept - sad boy with gamepad playing video game at home
Researchers suggest that targeted public health initiatives are urgently needed. (Ground Picture/Shutterstock)

By Mark Waghorn via SWNS

Children's physical activity fell by a fifth during the pandemic, according to new research.

Intensive work-outs, such as running and jumping and playing football or tennis, plunged by a third.

It was equivalent to a 17-minute reduction in daily moderate-to-vigorous exercise levels, say scientists.

The study is based on over 14,000 under-19s across the world. Those in higher latitude countries such as the UK fared worst.

Corresponding author Dr. Ross Neville, of University College Dublin, said: "Children and adolescents have experienced measurable reductions in exercise during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Findings underscore the need to provide bolstered access to support and resources related to physical activity to ensure good health and social functioning among children and adolescents during pandemic recovery efforts."

Autism Asian girl is lying on the sofa while feeling alone and disappointment.
(Blue Titan/Shutterstock)

Schools and gyms were forced to close - shutting down all organized sport. Physical activity is important for children's health and happiness.

The UK Chief Medical Officers recommend all young people should take part in an hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity each day.

This is any activity that gets them slightly hot, sweaty and out of breath. Children are also advised to limit the amount of time they spend being sedentary.

The international team collected data on three to 18-year-olds in Europe, the US, Asia, South America and Australia.

Dr. Neville said: "By pooling estimates across 22 studies from a range of global settings that included 14,216 participants, we demonstrated the duration of engagement in total daily physical activity decreased by 20 percent - irrespective of pre-pandemic baseline levels.

"Through moderation analysis, we showed this reduction was larger for exercise at higher intensities.

"Specifically, the average reduction in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per day during COVID-19 (17 minutes) represents a reduction of almost one-third of the daily
dose of moderate-to-vigorous exercise recommended for young children (three to five years) and school-going children and adolescents (5-18 years) to promote good physical health and psycho-social functioning."

Exercise is known to boost motor development, cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness, and bone strength.

It also improves brain power, emotional control, mood and quality of life, and protects against obesity.

Dr. Neville said: "Moreover, stable levels of physical activity during childhood and adolescence are known to predict engagement across the life course.

"During the pandemic, however, government-mandated social distancing restrictions were imposed across many countries, and this severely limited children’s access to regular physical activity opportunities.

"Major outlets for accessing physical activity (eg, sports clubs, swimming pools, gyms, community centers) were closed, canceled, or repeatedly interrupted."

Global school closures affecting 1.5 billion youths led to an increased reliance on digital media devices for learning activities. Sedentary screen time doubled.

Dr. Neville said: "Naturally enough, school closures also meant a reduction in active commuting, as well as a lack of access to recess play and physical education lessons, both of which provide viable opportunities to meet daily physical activity guidelines.

"Playground and other nature-based recreational facility closures also severely restricted access to outdoor and green spaces, which are key settings for childhood physical activity promoting play and socialization.

"Unfortunately, newly established levels of physical inactivity will be difficult to change.

"The gradual lifting of public health restrictions will likely be insufficient to facilitate in-
creases in child and adolescent physical activity.

"Thus, targeted public health initiatives are urgently needed. As UNICEF recognized in the early stages of the pandemic, formal reactivation strategies are required to avert the potentially irreversible harms that are being caused to a lost generation of youth."

The study is in JAMA Pediatrics.

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