Originally published April 10, 2020 by Front Porch News Texas.
By Johanna Hicks
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, online lessons and homeschooling are the new normal in education. How does physical activity fit into this new mode of learning?
Hildi Nicksic, clinical assistant professor in the Department of Health and Kinesiology at Texas A&M, explains why physical activity is important for students during this time.
Most of us are familiar with the physical benefits of activity and exercise, but it also helps with brain health and cognition. Higher fitness levels are associated with higher grades and test scores compared to those with lower fitness levels. Nicksic states that individuals tend to respond faster and more accurately to questions directly after being physically active.
With our nation at a standstill and our population quarantined, students are staying home instead of attending school. This means they are not experiencing physical education class or structured recess. Quality physical education programs are essential in teaching children skills that will enable them to adopt physically active lifestyles. Without access to physical education, we are missing the opportunity to engage children in structured movement designed to promote physical literacy. In addition to lacking access to physical education, the closure of schools combined with the work-from-home mandates has the potential to increase the amount of time children are sedentary. Spending the day at home increases the likelihood that children will also use screens recreationally.
Physical activity is strongly linked to psychological health. Physical activity releases endorphins, a protein important in the regulation of stress. Therefore, physical activity plays a therapeutic role in the treatment of depression and anxiety. Not only can exercise decrease stress and enhance mood, but choosing to exercise can generate a sense of accomplishment and a feeling of control, further supporting mental health.
What can parents do to ensure their children are staying active? The simple answer here is to be active and to encourage activity. One positive result of the social isolation requirement is that people seem to be embracing the opportunity to go for a run, or a walk, or a bike ride. It is critically important to stay home and maintain social distancing, but our shelter-in-place regulations permit outdoor exercise. Getting outside, especially when we are cooped up indoors for a majority of the day, positively impacts mental health. It’s inspiring to see people of all ages out walking, running, bike riding…and we could all use some inspiration right now. So let’s get active.