Originally published April 5, 2020 in the Springfield News-Leader.

By Claudette Riley

Tidy up a room while walking like a crab.

Do five standing push-ups against each wall in the house.

Use household items to create an obstacle course. Time each person who goes through to find a winner.

Those are just a few of the suggestions Springfield Public Schools’ fitness expert has for families during the stay-at-home order.

Brad Brummel, the coordinator of physical education, health and engagement activities for the state’s largest district, said this is a good time to get creative. He also urged families to have fun.

“One of my favorite things to do with my two girls is if we are watching TV — which is a common inside activity these days — is to do a commercial challenge,” Brummel said. “Anytime there is a commercial break, we complete a certain amount of exercises.”

He said students can gain an academic “brain boost” from physical activity. “Research has shown it improves concentration and brain function when you can take as small as a five or 10-minute activity break.”

Activity can also improve students’ mood and lower stress.

“The body just naturally produces chemicals that produce stress and anxiety. When we are put into situations, such as we are right now, the body is going to do that at a higher level,” he said. “Physical activity can reverse that. It can actually get rid of and remove those chemicals that are causing stress and anxiety in our body.”

In good weather, families are encouraged to stretch, take a walk or ride a bike.

“Physical activity is one of the best things you can do for your mental health, especially when the sunshine is out,” he said. “It makes it even better.”

Mirroring a national push, the Springfield district encourages students to exercise for at least 60 minutes a day.

“At the younger age, the focus is just play and being active — whether it is outside or inside,” he said. “As the students get a little older, the focus becomes trying to spend at least 50 percent of that activity time trying to get into that moderate to vigorous level. We teach them a lot more about their heart rate.”

To engage children and teens, Brummel encourages parents to let them voice their preferences when it comes to activity.

“We are all going to be more willing and engaged to be active if we have a voice in what that is,” he said. “The second thing would be choice, giving the child a couple choices that you as a parent would be comfortable with.”

He said offering options is also a critical component.

“We can’t expect a student of any age, or an adult for that matter, to what to do that same activity time and time and time again,” he said. “You have to provide variety.”

Brummel created an activity calendar with a mix of traditional and creative options. Any student with access to a smartphone or tablet can also download a supplemental app that has dance, yoga and fitness videos.

In the first two days of Springfield’s online learning platform, SPS At Home, students used the district’s physical education app. It was accessed by 826 elementary and 1,412 middle and high school students.

Parents can also search for activities online that might interest their children.

“The fitness, physical education and health community have really stepped up to the plate during this at-home time, this quarantine time,” he said. “They have provided a lot of resources for free.”

He suggested middle school students use videoconferencing programs to connect with a friend for a virtual workout.

“We know when we add the social aspect to our exercise workout or routine, that adds a little more accountability and fun.”

Parents trying to keep students active have a partner. There are more than 100 physical education teachers in the district who are still connecting with students to provide instruction or activity ideas.

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