COVID-19: Shouldn’t physical activity be considered essential?

By: Dr Eileen Africa & Catherine Lacey from Stellenbosch Kinderkinetics 

Physical activity levels amongst children worldwide have declined significantly over time. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), children should be active for a minimum of 60 minutes spread throughout the day (WHO, 2018). This means they can participate in just 10 minute bouts of exercise at a time, it does not have to be consecutive.  

The Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a respiratory disease and has become a worldwide pandemic. With increasing measures to prevent the spread of this virus, the South African government were forced to implement a nationwide lockdown on the 26th of March for just 21 days (Regulation Gazette No. 43147, R 11063, Vol. 657). However, this has since been extended and we still find ourselves under strict preventative measures.  

The current available evidence suggests that children are less likely to contract the virus, or show milder symptoms; nevertheless it has been shown that schools can be hotspots for the spread of COVID-19. The latter has less to do with how infectious children are, and much more to do with most public schools’ structures itself. Schools in South Africa often have over-crowded classrooms, inadequate space in the hallways, and impose an increased risk for the health of the teachers. As a result, schools have been shut for most of the lockdown, and even though there has been a significant loss of learning time, it goes far beyond this.  

Children have experienced a decline in physical activity and socialisation and an increase in sedentary behaviours and social distancing. For many children, schools are the only place for them to be physically active and socialise with their peers in a safe environment.  

The impact of the pandemic will be talked about and remembered for generations to come. It is our responsibility to look after our youngest generation. If we don’t nurture themnow and encourage them to be physically active during this time, they will experience the negative effects for years to come.  

We are therefore encouraging you to challenge your children, and your entire family, to include movement in your daily routine. The goal is to get at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per day, and remember this can also be broken up into smaller sessions throughout the

Here are some recommendations to get your family moving:

  1. Check out some of the great Virgin Active Online workouts for kids.
  2. Limit your kids’ screen time and encourage more physical activity.
  3. Your children learn by example, so make movement a part of your daily routine and be a positive role model for them.
  4. Try to schedule a set time for physical activity each day. If this is not possible, then make sure to provide opportunities for your children throughout the day to get them up and moving.
  5. On warmer days, take a stroll around the block, go to the park and get your children active outdoors.

During these uncertain times, it can be difficult to maintain enthusiasm to be physically active, but always make exercise a priority. There is no time like the present, so use this unusual opportunity to spend your days being active as a family. #LiveHappilyEverActive

References: South African Government Gazette. (2020). Regulation Gazette No. 43147, R 11063, Vol. 657. Disaster Management Act: Directions to address, prevent and combat the spread of Coronavirus COVID-19. WHO (World Health Organisation). (2018). Physical Activity and Young People - Recommended levels of physical activity for children aged 5 - 17 years.


Published on October 6, 2020