*The following is excerpted from an online article posted on HealthDay.
Even in normal times, getting regular exercise and spending less time on screens can be good for kids. So it should come as no surprise that researchers discovered that kids who exercised more and used technology less during the pandemic had better mental health outcomes.
“Both as a pediatrician and as a mother, it was obvious that the circumstances of the pandemic — school closures, restrictions on regular activities that get kids active and outdoors and moving — had made it very challenging for children to engage in the physical activity they needed,” said study lead author Dr. Pooja Tandon, a researcher at Seattle Children’s Hospital.
“And then also because of remote schooling, which was happening in most parts of the country last year, they were on screens so much more, certainly for school, but also for recreation,” she said.
The study included more than 500 parents of children aged 6 to 11 and more than 500 parent-adolescent pairs of kids aged 11 to 17. All were questioned between Oct. 22 and Nov. 2, 2020.
Kids who were more exposed to pandemic-related stressors engaged in less physical activity and logged more screen time. More importantly, the study found that better health behaviors were associated with better mental health.
The reasons could be many, Tandon said.
With physical activity, some of its benefits are physiological. But for kids, exercise also often includes a social aspect — they’re playing with others, whether it’s at recess, on the playground, or in organized sports.
“The impact of screen time could be found in what it replaces. If kids and teens are spending excessive amounts of time in front of a screen, they may not be engaging in other healthy activities, including exercising, sleeping, or spending time with others, all of which promote mental health,” Tandon said.
For middle school students and high schoolers, only 13.5% were engaging in 60 minutes of physical activity daily at the time of the survey, compared to about 25% in other studies conducted before the pandemic began.
“I think the other striking thing was that even the ones that said ‘I only do one day a week of 60 minutes of physical activity’ compared to those that did zero days, they were associated with better mental health scores on the strengths and difficulties questionnaire,” Tandon said.
The findings were published in JAMA Network Open.