Keeping Your Family Physically Active in a Pandemic

In our efforts to stay socially distant, many of us are staying home. However, it is important to not lose sight of the need to stay physically active. With access to gyms and playgrounds limited, we must find creative ways to keep our bodies moving and stay healthy.

Pediatrician Anita Juvvadi, MD, discusses in a recent Stanford Medicine Children’s Health podcast how pandemic restrictions are already taking a toll on the amount of activity people do each day.

“Ordinarily, pre-COVID, people would on average be moving at least 2,000 to 3,000 steps per day, even with stationary jobs,” she explained. “But due to virtual classes and work-from-home schedules, everyone is moving less.”

Physical exercise is necessary to stay healthy. Regular exercise and movement can help people feel better physically, mentally, and emotionally. Getting your heart pumping supports the immune system and can reduce anxiety and depression. This activity is much needed as we face these challenging times.

For families wondering how to stay active in the middle of a pandemic, Dr. Juvvadi shared some tips to find fun ways to keep moving every day.

1. Put exercise on your calendar.

Setting aside a certain amount of time each day for exercise makes it a priority. “I usually recommend that children and adults get at least 30 minutes of active exercise, five days a week,” Dr. Juvvadi said. “On weekends, one hour of outdoor activity is a good goal.”

Having a plan in place makes it easier to fit exercise into a busy day. Plus, it gives everyone time to think up fun activities like a boot camp, a backyard relay race, or even a dance-off set to your children’s favorite songs.

2. Use your timer.

Carving out 30 minutes to an hour can seem daunting at first. But it does not all have to happen in a solid chunk. Short stretching and exercise breaks are just what the doctor ordered for those long days sitting in front of a computer screen.

“For school-aged children and young teens, set a timer to remind them to take short breaks, like they would if they were physically in school,” Dr. Juvvadi recommended.

It takes only three 10-minute breaks to reach the goal of 30 minutes per day. Try adding in breaks before each meal to stretch and get the blood pumping. With many parents and children working and schooling from home, there is an opportunity to get the whole family involved.  

3. Enjoy the great outdoors.

Social distancing does not necessarily mean that you need to avoid being in public spaces. While you may want to avoid a crowded mall, getting out into nature is good for the body.

“Make plans for weekend hikes or bike rides as a family,” Dr. Juvvadi suggested. “Weekend trips offer kids the opportunity to learn about their surroundings; plus it gives the whole family something meaningful to look forward to during a long week.”

Outdoor activities are also an opportunity to show children how to safely manage being outside the home. The change in routine of being inside all day can spark anxiety for some children. Showing kids how to behave responsibly outside can help them feel safer when they venture out.

“The more that families are staying indoors due to fears of exposure, the more children are getting paranoid and worried about getting sick if they step out,” Dr. Juvvadi said. “If parents take proper precautions and try to keep up with outdoor activities, it’s likely that children will feel more safe.”

4. Make an exercise pact.

You can use a group exercise pact as way to stay connected virtually with friends and family. It will make everyone more accountable for sticking to the plan.

“Plan to run or walk a marathon in a month between two families, so each one can make the goal to cover 13 miles,” Dr. Juvvadi suggested. Creating a sense of community despite needing to stay apart can make the experience less isolating.

5. Think outside the box.

Dr. Juvvadi recommended getting creative by finding activities that can serve double duty as a way to exercise and a way to help someone else. Consider asking a neighbor if you can walk their dog or help with yardwork. You get the benefit of a workout and the satisfaction of giving back to your community.

Listen to other HealthTalks podcasts by Stanford Medicine Children’s Health >


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