Children exercising less, spending more time on couch than before COVID-19 pandemic

BRISTOL, England — Children are exercising less than they did before the pandemic and spending too much time on the sofa, warns a new study. Researchers in the United Kingdom show that less than four in 10 youngsters (36 percent) were doing enough exercise by the end of last year — despite their parents still keeping fit as much as they used to before COVID-19 struck.

Children ages 10 to 11 in the U.K. were doing 56 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity on weekdays as lockdown rules were eased between last April and December. That’s four minutes less than the recommended hour and eight minutes less, or a drop of 13 percent, compared with what they were doing prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Young ones are also spending 25 more minutes lounging around on the sofa or in bed during the week than they used to. Children were even less active at the weekend when they did just 46 minutes of moderate to intense physical activity, eight minutes less than before the pandemic.

For the study, 393 children and their parents from 23 schools in the Bristol area wore an accelerometer to measure the intensity of their exercise. Participants also completed a questionnaire. These findings were compared with facts and figures about 1,296 children and their parents who were recruited from 50 schools in the same area before the pandemic.

Getting enough exercise is vital if children are to grow up healthy and happy.

U.K. health officials say children and young people should do an hour of exercise each day which leaves them slightly hot, sweaty and out of breath. They also say children should not spend too much time sitting around on the sofa.

“It was surprising the extent children’s physical activity levels had fallen after the pandemic, indicating that changes in physical activity patterns did not revert to previous levels once freedoms had been restored,” says study senior author Russ Jago, a professor of physical activity and public health, in a statement. “These findings highlight a greater need to work with children, families, schools, and communities to maximize the opportunities for children to be physically active, as we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“The key strength of this study was we used data collected before and after the pandemic, using the same methods and in the same schools,” adds first author Dr Ruth Salway. “The data clearly demonstrates children’s physical activity had deteriorated once the restrictions were lifted. This emphasizes the importance of understanding how such habits change over time, so appropriate support and interventions can be introduced as normality resumes.”

The findings are published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity.

Report by South West News Service writer Gwyn Wright.