Fewer teens meet physical activity recommendations during the COVID-19 pandemic

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Experts say nearly half as many teens met activity standards when compared to before the pandemic

A new study conducted by researchers from the University of Toronto explored how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected teens’ exercise habits. According to their findings, less than 10% of teens are meeting physical activity recommendations during the pandemic; that number was at 16% prior to the pandemic. 

“The pandemic led to the cancellation of in-person physical education classes and organized sports, gym, and recreational facility closures, and rises in screen use, which all contributed to lower physical activity for teens,” said researcher Dr. Jason Nagata. 

“Physical activity can support young people’s physical and mental health,” he added. “We found that teens who were more active during the pandemic reported stronger emotional well-being and felt more socially connected to others.” 

Physical and mental impacts of less exercise

For the study, the researchers analyzed data from over 5,100 teens enrolled in the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study. They looked at teens’ survey responses about physical activity, screen time, and mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The researchers learned that nearly half as many teens were completing 60 minutes of exercise per day during the COVID-19 pandemic when compared to before the pandemic. Just under nine percent of teens were meeting this goal in 2020, while over 16% were doing so before the pandemic.

Not being as physically active during the pandemic affected the teens’ mental health. The researchers learned that those who were the least active were more likely to struggle with their mental health, including heightened anxiety about COVID-19 and higher stress levels. Conversely, those who were consistent with their exercise reported better social support and experienced less anxiety. 

The researchers hope these findings inspire parents to be more active with their children so that they take time to exercise regularly.

“Parents should encourage their children to move more and sit less,” said Dr. Nagata. “Despite disruptions from the pandemic, consider doing activities as a family, going outdoors, or participating in virtual exercise classes.” 

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