By Cara Murez, a reporter for HealthDay

TENTH DAY OF OCT., 2021 (HealthDay News )

Even during normal times, giving children regular exercise and limiting their screen time can be beneficial. It should therefore come as no surprise that researchers found that children who engaged in more physical activity and less technology use during the epidemic performed better on the mental health test.

According to study lead author Dr. Pooja Tandon, a researcher at Seattle Children’s Hospital, “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.”

They were on screens much more, she continued, “both for education and for enjoyment, because of remote schooling, which was prevalent throughout much of the nation last year.

“My team and I were interested in attempting to define what was going on with physical activity and screen time during the pandemic and with all the pandemic limitations in place and, importantly, to try to correlate those health behaviors to mental health -related outcomes,” Tandon said.

More than 500 parents of children aged 6 to 11 and more than 500 parent-adolescent pairs of children aged 11 to 17 participated in the study. Between October 22 and November 2, 2020, everyone was interrogated.

Children who were more exposed to stressors associated to the pandemic undertook less physical activity and spent more time watching screens. More crucially, the study discovered a link between improved health behaviors and improved mental health.

Tandon noted there could be a variety of causes.

Some of the health advantages of exercise are physiological. However, exercise for kids also frequently involves social interaction when they play with others, whether it is during recess, on the playground, or in organized sports.

“There are a few different tiers of advantage. They move their bodies, which enhances their health, and there are also social advantages to doing it with others, whether they be children or even adults or other family members, according to Tandon.

What screen time replaces could reveal something about its effects. Kids and teens may not be engaged in other beneficial activities like exercising, sleeping, or spending time with others if they spend too much time in front of a screen. These activities all support mental health.

Tandon stated that not taking action to improve your health has an opportunity cost. “And then there’s the actual content of what’s in the media, like violent media content or other unsuitable content for kids, and then we’re discovering more and more about the negative psychological consequences of social media, like body image and cyberbullying.”

Only 13.5% of middle school and high school students reported being physically active for 60 minutes per day at the time of the survey, compared to roughly 25% in earlier studies done prior to the epidemic.

According to Tandon, “I think the second interesting result was that even individuals who indicated, “I only do one day a week of 60 minutes of physical exercise,” were linked to higher mental health ratings on the strengths and problems questionnaire than those who reported doing zero days.

She argued that parents and families shouldn’t be expected to handle this issue on their own. Schools can assist by encouraging more than just academic progress during and after the pandemic.

According to Tandon, “I would urge them to make sure that the opportunities for physical activity are not left behind in that conversation, that recess and PE and afterschool opportunities for physical activity, outdoor time, and sports are going to be really critical and arguably more critical in that kind of reentry to whatever this next phase of the pandemic brings us.

The results were released on October 1 in JAMA Network Open .

According to Dave Anderson, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute in New York City, younger children who spend more time watching screens may be skipping out on other essential developmental activities. He claimed that kids just lack the necessary experience to deal with stressors in the real world when they meet challenging peer settings.

According to Anderson, who wasn’t involved in the study, Exercise and sleep are fundamental wellness practices that include eating regularly and staying hydrated.

“Those four things help everyone’s mental health, but they’re not a treatment for any specific mental health issue,” he said.
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For additional information about exercise and mental health , visit the American Psychological Association.

SOURCES: David Anderson, PhD, clinical psychologist, Child Mind Institute, New York City; Pooja Tandon, MD, MPH, pediatrician and researcher, Seattle Children’s Hospital; JAMA Network Open, October 1, 2021

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