British Columbia·Point of View

The pandemic shouldn't be an excuse for not exercising, but a chance to get your kids moving

I'm not the only one who was struggling long before the pandemic to keep my kids off their devices and on the move.

Don't blame couch-potato kids on COVID — they weren't moving enough before the pandemic, either

Don't let the weather stop you and your kids from enjoying outdoor activities. (Sunny studio / Shutterstock)

This story is part of Amy Bell's Parental Guidance column, which airs on CBC Radio One's The Early Edition.

Lately, my children have become one with the couch.

I can pretend the only reason my kids are being lazy is because of COVID-19, but that would be a lie. 

I'm not the only one who was struggling long before the pandemic to keep my kids off their devices and on the move.

Guidelines set by the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology state that, while it varies a bit depending on the age and abilities of each child, our kids should be engaging in about an hour of physical activity every day — and it doesn't have to be some intense, high-energy activity; just a simple walk or hike can do the trick. 

But ParticipAction Canada says prior to the pandemic just 15 per cent of kids were actually hitting that target — and in the first month of the pandemic, that percentage dropped to a staggering low of 2.8 per cent.

But it's not always kids who are the problem. After all, it's not exactly tempting after a long day at work for parents to head out into the cold or the rain. I fully admit that I am a whiny little Goldilock if the weather is anything less than just right.

'Reinforce the love of outside'

Vancouver dad, podcaster and blogger James Smith knows it's easier to let his young daughter veg out on the couch — but with the right attitude he knows they can both learn to appreciate all the great times they can spend in the great outdoors. 

"I want to create more positive memories," says Smith. "Reinforce the love of outside that I had as a child in the English countryside ... We didn't have other places to go. It doesn't matter what the weather is, if you put a coat on or not, you go outside."

If you or your kids are what you might consider "West Coast wimps," it's good to keep in mind that for generations, people across this country have made sure their children are active in the great outdoors year round. 

At the beginning of the pandemic, the First Nations Health Authority released a really comprehensive guide to help parents keep their children engaged and outside.

Denise Lecerte is with the authority's Aboriginal Head Start On Reserve program, which focuses on early childhood education, and says activities are held outside as often as possible. 

"If it was over -20 C then they would be outside and they would be dressed for that," explains Lecerte. "If it was colder than -20, then that was the cut-off." 

While the proper gear for all weather can be expensive, it is definitely a worthy investment. And ask around: A lot of kids have outgrown last year's rain slickers or parkas, and parents are often looking to give them to kids they know will use them. 

Concern over losing 'safe place' of sports

The importance of staying active isn't just about physical health.

Sports, especially team sports, can be an important outlet and a "safe place" for a lot of kids, so those kids struggled when school and rec centres were closed down in the spring. There's concern for certain families as the number of new COVID-19 cases continues to rise and the increased restrictions that might bring. 

Through the summer, KidsPlay, a non-profit organization working toward keeping kids away from drugs, gangs and violence — was able to run a few summer camps for a limited number of kids, which was something their parents were deeply grateful for. 

KidsPlay founder and CEO, Vancouver police Det. Kal Dosanjh, believes that without the outlet of sports in the upcoming months, so many of these kids will be left to their own devices, and that means they could end up making really poor or even dangerous choices on how to spend their free time. 

"We're hoping we can run some indoor camps... but how many kids are we permitted?" Dosanjh wonders.

"As long as we're doing something... that's great. But if they completely shut things down again we're in trouble, I'll be honest with you." 

There are so many ways in which getting your body moving can help kids mentally, physically and socially — all the areas that have deeply suffered in the past eight months.

But one thing I will say for COVID-19 is that it has continually exposed a lot of areas where we have been failing for a long time, and maybe given us a chance to reset and rethink the unhealthy ways we've been living. 

Kids being inactive, or just downright lazy, isn't a new issue. We can blame a lot of things on COVID-19, but this epidemic of inertia has been plaguing our kids for a long time. 


Amy Bell is a digital contributor to CBC. She can be heard weekdays on The Early Edition as the traffic and weather reporter and parenting columnist.


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