People around the world are staying at home as much as possible to slow the spread of COVID-19. Yet the World Health Organization (WHO) is reminding us all that we can’t spend all winter on the couch either.
But how much physical activity is enough?
New WHO guidelines on physical activity and sedentary behaviour [PDF] recommend at least 2.5 to 5 hours of moderate to vigorous activity per week for all adults, including people living with chronic conditions or disability, and an average of 60 minutes per day for children and adolescents.
It may sound like a lot, but the recommendation comes with another key message that may help: Every move counts.
In many cities, gyms and other recreation facilities are closed, and sports are on hiatus. Even so, we can still get our daily dose of physical activity during work, sport, leisure, or transportation (walking, wheeling, and cycling). You can also get it through dance, play, and everyday household tasks, like gardening and cleaning.
“Any amount of physical activity is better than none, and more is better.“
– One of the key messages from the new WHO guidelines [PDF]
Easy ways for adults to add more activity to their days
For adults, 300 minutes a week adds up to just under 45 minutes a day. Here are a few ways you can get there:
- Add a daily walk to your routine: set a timer and walk for 15 minutes in any direction; turn around when the timer goes. There’s half an hour done.
- Take 15 minutes a day to play with your kids: toss a ball, make a snowman, join in a song or two on “Just Dance” on your video game console, pick them up and swing them around in the air, let them hang off your arms or legs… you get the idea!
- Count your time spent cleaning the house (especially if you’re scrubbing hard!).
- At least once a week, set aside time for yourself to do physically active things you enjoy as a part of your own self-care. This could be anything: hiking, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, swimming, yoga, running, gardening, dancing, rearranging your furniture—whatever activities make you feel good!
- If you’re working from home, set a timer and take a 10-minute “active brain break” every two hours. Do this twice, and you’ve added 20 minutes of activity to your day. During this time, you can do things like:
- Take a walk around the house, especially up and down the stairs if you have some, and tidy up as you go.
- If there’s snow, shovel your walk.
- If you have a fireplace, go out and fetch some firewood.
- If your kids are learning at home, ask them to join you in a quick round of sock ball catch, have a mini dance party, or offer to give them a piggyback ride around the house.
- If you’re working at the office:
- Walk to the coffee maker or bathroom that is furthest from your desk.
- Stand up and stretch!
- Park farther from the door so that you get some extra steps in.
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator whenever possible.
Related read: Try this 30-day family physical literacy challenge
How to make sure your kids get enough physical activity in their day
For children, WHO recommends at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day. This doesn’t necessarily mean 60 minutes of sports or organized activities every day: just like adults, every move counts.
Here are some easy ways you can ensure your child gets enough active time every day:
- Limit sedentary screen time: many children seem to gravitate to tablets, computer games, or televisions if given the choice. When screens are off-limits, kids will find other activities. Most of these alternatives will require more physical activity.
- Play outside: Children tend to move more vigorously and for longer periods when outside. If your backyard or local park has become “boring” try introducing a new element:
- Suggest they wear a cape, mask, hat, or another costume to inspire imaginative play. You could also use face paint or eyeliner to draw a mustache, monocle, or cat whiskers on their cheeks, to help inspire a new persona—and new adventures!
- Let them take a favourite stuffed animal or other toys outside.
- Ask your older child to create a scavenger hunt for you to do.
- Use ordinary objects in new ways: put food colouring in water and let your preschooler paint the snow, or take some pots and pans or plastic containers outside so your child can make “potions” in a makeshift mud kitchen.
- Seed your home and outdoor spaces with prompts to inspire active play: put up a small basketball hoop in your child’s room to throw foam balls or crumpled-up paper in, tape a hopscotch outline on the floor in your hallway, and keep seasonal toys handy and accessible so that balls, sleds, and other equipment are easy for kids to get on their own.
- Walk to school or other places: If you can go on foot, do! Even if it’s just to go mail a letter, it’s good for children to explore their neighbourhood on foot.
- When your child invites you to play, say “Yes!” There’s nothing a child likes better than when Mom becomes a tickle monster or Dad plays dress-up.
Physical activity is good for hearts, bodies, and minds
Regular physical activity can prevent and help manage heart disease, type-2 diabetes, and cancer. Physical activity can also reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, and enhance thinking, learning, and overall well-being.
– Excerpt from the WHO guidelines [PDF]
“Being physically active is critical for health and well-being—it can help to add years to life and life to years,” said WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “Every move counts, especially now as we manage the constraints of the COVID-19 pandemic. We must all move every day—safely and creatively.”