As remote learning keeps students inactive, exercise critical for academic, physical health

By KYW Newsradio 1060

Part of a four-week series: 'Live and Learn: Education in a COVID-19 World'

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) -- Kids have been less active and more stressed since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. Many students are still learning remotely in front of a computer for hours each school day.

That’s why physical education is more important than ever, according to Matt Flesock, executive director of UCLA Health Sound Body Sound Mind.

“There are really limited opportunities to be active in the home learning environment,” Flesock said.

At home, there’s no recess, sports or walking to and from class.

Flesock says he expects the obesity rate, which has tripled among adolescents over the past 40 years, to climb even higher because of the pandemic.

“We have an education system right now that is keeping kids in front of screens. We have a tremendous risk of continuing and almost accelerating this inactivity and obesity trend, and it is a deadly duo,” he said.

He’s pleased many schools have kept physical education in the remote learning curriculum, but he says it’s not the same as in-school instruction.

“The home learning environment doesn’t provide the space that schools do, doesn’t provide the resources that schools do or the equipment that schools have.”

To help kids stay focused, Flesock suggests what he calls brain breaks.

“It doesn’t need to be a 20- or 30-minute bout of exercise. It can just be five minutes, 10 minutes. Get the blood pumping, clear their mind, get their focus back on track," he said. "You’ll find that to work that into the course of a child’s day will have tremendous benefits long term.”

When children move their bodies through exercise and play, it improves their physical, mental and emotional health.

“With stress, anxiety and depression at all-time highs, exercise is an amazing treatment for low grade incidents of that," Flesock said.

And a direct academic improvement comes from physical activity. An Illinois study found that students who worked out before school got better grades.

Flesock said the school district actually scheduled the students' most difficult class right after physical education -- "and they found that students that scheduled that way performed at least 20% better in those subjects.”

It’s recommended that kids get at least an hour of physical activity daily.

The coronavirus pandemic has altered life in many ways for most of us, including the way students are learning. KYW Newsradio is taking a look at the impact of COVID-19 on education with "Live and Learn: Education in a COVID-19 World."